Friday, February 26, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 080: Enroute to Laurent

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Kirk asks Spock Prime, "So you do feel?"  Spock Prime: "Yes." "Going back through time you changed all our lives..."

Spock Prime, bored by Kirk's inane repetition of the obvious,  decides their fireside male bonding time in the cave is over, (perhaps the lack of drums?) and it's time for action.  "Jim," he announces, "we must go. There is a Starfleet outpost not far from here."

That's another pretty amazing coincidence in a long string of them, isn't it?  Nero invests a quarter of a century by an entire ship and crew to capture this one Federation Ambassador he deemed  most responsible for a "genocide", then for revenge he puts Spock on a Federation planet, unsupervised, and right next to a Starfleet outpost?  Ridiculous!  It goes completely against Nero's own justification for decades of planning, waiting, and temporal mechanics calculations to exact revenge by forcing Spock to watch Vulcan's destruction. 

After this long wait, Nero must have captured the Jellyfish near Romulus (or wherever), warped over to the Klingon space to breeze through their 47 battlecruisers without a scratch, then headed to the Federation planet Delta Vega, beamed Spock down next to the outpost, and then warped off to attack Vulcan and mop the floor with everything Starfleet had, including their best ship.  Why does Spock not alert Starfleet that there's a genocidal lunatic about to destroy all life in the Federation?  Apparently, our pointy-eared super genius thought it more important to sulk in a cave, hide from the Starfleet people at the outpost, and gawk at the sky for hours. 

It has been proposed that Spock Prime did nothing to save Vulcan and the Federation because he was  "emotionally compromised" as he explained later.  But this compromise was presented as primarily the result of witnessing his home and Mother being destroyed, which occurred after his period of senseless, criminal inaction.  Also, people who have really given up don't go to all the trouble to gather the materials needed to fuel toasty campfires on ice worlds and fashion torches, to say nothing of actually starting any kind of combustion under such conditions - its very hard.  Yet we are to believe Spock did all this while fending off ravenous bugblatter monsters roaming the surface and even larger ones ambushing from beneath the glaciers.  Spock, trained in philosophy would more likely have encountered one of the beasts and from its Shamu-like jaws, considered how lucky he was that life had been good to him or alternatively, if he thought it hadn't been good so far, (which given his circumstances, seems more likely), considered how lucky it was that life won't be troubling him much longer. :D

 Kirk asks: "Wait.  Where you came from did I know my father"  Spock Prime answers "Yes.  You often spoke of him as being your inspiration for joining Starfleet. He proudly lived to see you become captain of the Enterprise."  Kirk: "Captain..."  Spock Prime: "A ship we must return you to as soon as possible."

We cut to the Enterprise as Sulu reports: "Warp Three Sir," followed by Chekov: "One five one mark three, the Laurentian system, sir."  Spock confirms with "Thank you gentlemen."

 McCoy asks from offscreen, "You wanted to see me?"  Spock answers "Yes, I am aware James Kirk is a friend of yours.  I recognized that by supporting me as you did must have been difficult." 

"Is that a thank you?"

"I am simply acknowledging your difficulties."

Of the six speaking roles in this segment, none are female.

Vulcan sarcasm irritates McCoy in our next episode, Star Trek by the Minute 081: Green-blooded Hobgoblin

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 079: Billions Died Because I Failed

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Spock continues his narration of the mind meld:

"He held me responsible for the loss of his world."  We see the Jellyfish docked aboard the Narada in a long shot, and Spock descends the ramp into a surrounding cordon of Romulans.  "He captured my vessel and spared my life for one reason; so that I would know his pain."  It has been argued that Nero was overcome with grief so his actions need not be rational.  Nevertheless, I don't buy the idea that simply any action can be justified via repeated appeals to the emotional insanity defense, as is used for Bones disabling Kirk, Spock stranding Kirk, and most of Kirk's nonsensical or even criminal actions.   To me, this is a pretty cheap gimmick for avoiding the real work it takes to create believable characters with whom we can identify. 

In this case, grief induced shock at the loss of his home and people leads, as this film so often does, to the desire to escalate.  All the main characters, except Capt. Pike, the overt military propagandist and  Amanda, to the extent they have an opportunity to portray a view, they seem to advocate for escalation of conflict & violence, with the "good" side winning every time.  Suffering by "the enemy" does not exist, and in every instance, the enemy is completely beyond reason or redemption...exactly what soldiers have been indoctrinated with for thousands of years, in order to train them to murder on command.

If Nero's reaction is somehow believable, then there should be an example, somewhere in history of someone who was previously a peaceful, hardworking family man, that lost people he cared about, and reacted by trying to murder everyone associated with those who were trying to effect a rescue of the victims, but failed.  My guess is that such a ridiculous caricature has never existed outside the imagination of very prejudiced minds, including mine.

We see Spock standing on the Delta Vega glacier, staring up at the sky as he intones: "He beamed me here so I could observe his vengeance. As he was helpless to save his planet. I would be helpless to save mine."  Another madman who seeks nothing more than to destroy the world for "bloody vengeance"?  Even Darph Bobo was written with a more believable form of cliche, in spite of the handicap of being a comedy cartoon spoof.

We are shown Spock watching Vulcan's consumption by the singularity while his exposition claims "Billions of lives lost, because of me Jim, because I failed."  There are two problems with this scene: one scientific and the other ethical.

The scientific problem with the scene is that Spock is supposed to be observing Vulcan from not merely another planet, but actually another star system - making Vulcan's central star (hundreds of times the size of a planet) simply a dot, and even that would be visible only in a darkened sky.  Here, it is shown relatively larger than our moon, meaning Spock would have to be REALLY close, much  less than 1,000,000 km.  Again, the creators show ignorance for how big space really is, something our species discovered hard work, courage, and science.

The ethical problem is that in the BEST possible case, Spock is taking actual responsibility for the results of a natural disaster that he unsuccessfully tried to prevent, and in a less generous but more plausible reading, he assumes blame for the destruction of Vulcan for being unable to save everyone in time.  We were previously shown little Spock being raised on advanced definitions of heroic acts ("supererogation", i.e.: morally praiseworthy but not obligatory actions, about which there is debate if such acts even exist) and yet here under either reading, Spock is shown lacking even a basic knowledge of ethics.  If Nero, a supernova, or even time itself causes deaths, Spock and other members of the crisis response team are less "responsible" or "to blame" than those who did nothing to avoid it.  While the comically bad homicidal lunatic might violate reasonable judgment in this way, it runs opposite to what we have been shown is Spock's background.

Spock pulls his hand from Kirk's face, now weeping.  "Forgive me," Spock apologizes, "emotional  transference is an effect of the mind meld."

No females appear or speak in this segment.

Spock acknowledges McCoy's emotional difficulties in our next Star Trek by the Minute, episode 080: Enroute to Laurent

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 078: I Went Through the Black Hole

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Spock’s mind meld continues: 

 “As I began my return trip I was intercepted. He called himself Nero, 'Last of The Romulan Empire.'"

In my attempt to escape, both of us were pulled into the black hole.”  Like the terribly incorrect supernova nonsense, this is similarly bad.  Black holes, from our perspective outside the gravity well, act like a suspended animation field which would take anything entering it into the future.  A clock would appear to slow down as we watched it fall into the black hole, and our view of the clock would red shift and dim progressively.  If there were any way to survive and then escape, (which there isn’t, and there isn’t either), then the clock would have essentially moved forward in time, not backward.

Also, we see a two-dimensional event horizon for the black hole which seems to be a rip-off of Stargate, but it is not the shape of a black hole event horizon, and even if we grant all of these impossibilities, if the Jellyfish or the Narada exited the event horizon, they still would be sucked instantly back in by the extreme gravitation that we are repeatedly told about, yet it only reasserts itself at the end of the film.  That’s an extremely convenient fundamental force.  Disregarding these plot inconsistencies, we are shown the Narada emerging from the event horizon just as the Kelvin arrives.

Spock intones: “Nero went through first. He was the first to arrive,” and we see a reprise of the attack on the Kelvin.

With visuals that are unclear, the ridiculous plot element is repeated that “Nero and his crew spent the next 25 years, awaiting my arrival. But what was years for Nero, was only seconds for me.”  This graphic may be from a deleted scene, where it has been posited that Nero and his crew were imprisoned on Rura Pente, the Klingon death camp, which again, seems like a ridiculous place to prepare for revenge, but a great place to be weakened and killed, especially after 25 years.

"Nero was waiting for me."  Apparently, the Klingons now allow prisoners to do advance quantum cosmological time travel calculations in their spare time, provide the sensor data, computers, and everything else needed for research of that kind, a skill at which these miners must have been fairly expert. if it was never used before.  Pretty amazing stuff. :P  

No women speak or appear in this segment.

Next: More ludicrously bad science as Spock watches Vulcan's destruction from a planet on another star system, without a telescope in Star Trek by the Minute 079: Billions Died Because I Failed

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 077: When the Unthinkable Happened

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 In a nice, special effects zoom typical of the excellent external space shots in the film, we pass through bands of rock debris and dust to approach the soon to explode star.  Spock’s narration of the mind meld continues “The star went supernova destroying everything in its path.”

Here again the science is pretty far off: shock waves from supernova only travel at about 10% of the speed of light, meaning it would take hours for such a shock wave to travel from our own star to the earth.  If we sent something to our nearest stellar neighbor at .1c, today’s babies could easily be having great-grandchildren by the time it arrived, 42 years later.  Further, we might reasonably suspect that any red matter would need to be delivered at or near the center of the nova, (we will ignore problems of travelling into the supernova remnant and across a “galaxy threatening” shockwave), thus: travelling at the speed of light, the effect would need 4.6 more years to effect the shock wave, depending on the wave’s thickness.

As we see a shot of Spock apparently talking to Romulans he says “I promised the Romulans I would save their planet.”
 “We outfitted our fastest ship,” with some nice CGI of the Jellyfish construction, “Using red matter I would create a black hole which would absorb the exploding star.”

“I was on route when the unthinkable happened: the supernova destroyed Romulus.”  Which is yet more nonsensical dialog.  The most plausible justification for this line, which has drawn fans’ attention, is that Spock made an error of timing – however even this tortuous addition to information not in the film can hardly be described as “unthinkable” unless making a mistake forecasting is impossible, and would have to change the normal meaning of words like “unthinkable” to make sense of the line.

Spock claims: “I had little time.  I had to extract the red matter and shoot it into the supernova. “  Actually, he was shooting it into the shock wave remnant of the supernova which occurred many years ago.  Hideously bad writing in my opinion, yet Orson Scott Card wonders on his blog “…if this might not be the best space-adventure movie ever made.”  I’m dying to see some justification for that in light of the multitude of profound defects in the film.

No women appear or speak in this segment.

Spock claims another impossibility in our next episode, Star Trek by the Minute 078: I Went Through the Black Hole

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 076: Meld Begins

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Kirk rises from sitting by the campfire to declare "Ah…Sir, I appreciate what you did for me today, but if you were Spock you would know that we are not friends at all, you hate me, you marooned me here for mutiny."

Spock: "Mutiny?"


"You are not the Captain?"

"No, no, you are the Captain, Pike was taken hostage."

"By Nero…"

Kirk turns and asks: "What do you know about him?"

"He is a particularly troubled Romulan." Spock rises, extends his hand and approached Kirk saying: "Please, allow me - It will be easier."

"Whoa, whoa, what're you doin?"

Spock says "Our minds, one and together," and he touches his fingers to Kirks face, continuing: "129 years from now, a star will explode and threaten to destroy the galaxy."

This is one of those points where a critical plot element demonstrates astounding ignorance of scientific reality. Supernovas are our main source of heavy elements. Carbon for our DNA, sodium and potassium for our nervous systems, and of course oxygen, (vital for the H2O used in surfing, skiing, and beer); From the explosion of stars, all these elements reach interstellar space, accrete into stars and earths, eventually some of it evolves into hack writers and stuffing for fat wallets.

Such explosions do not threaten the galaxy. At all; And I'm pretty sure I knew this by the time I finished fourth grade. What blows my mind is that people apparently that ignorant of science are getting rich and famous writing science fiction. Not only ignorance, but apparently complete apathy as well – lacking even the interest to read merely the introduction to the Wikipedia entry on supernovas. Yet, according to Paramount, Star Trek 2009 was a significant reason they had a record-breaking year, and these writers are signed up for a full slate of films, including the next Trek movie. The bogus "threat" of planetary destruction around other stars will be addressed later, but suffice it to say, the lack of science in what is ostensibly a "science fiction" film is, IMO, inexcusable. It's almost like these guys write for the Heritage Foundation or the Project for a New American Century.

Spock continues: "That is where I'm from, Jim: the future."

No women appear or speak in this segment.

Spock describes the upcoming supernova as "unthinkable" when it actually occurs in Star Trek by the Minute episode 077: When the Unthinkable Happened. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 075: I Am Spock

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After excruciating seconds go by with Kirk having no means to resist being eaten by this monster, he is shown kicking ineffectually off screen. The only possible thing his boot could hit would be the tongue with which he has been lassoed. Despite Kirk's complete lack of handholds, footholds or anything else that would prevent him from sliding directly down the creature's gullet, and despite that we have seen this animal break upward through solid ice to attack a polar bear sized predator, crush it in one bite, and fling it easily 100 m through the air, the creature is shown now to be completely stymied. This kind of helpless, senseless delay appears again and again such as in the Kelvin battle, (apparently to enable George Kirk's kamikaze run), the attack on the Enterprise, (apparently to keep our main characters alive), the drill platform fight, (same), Chekhov's attempt to beam out the Vulcan High Council, (yielding the unbelievable death of Amanda), and other examples.

From nowhere, a lit torch begins flailing in front of the creatures gaping maw, and it instantly releases Kirk and backs away out of the cavern as the mysterious wielder of the torch advances steadily and waving his arms while Kirk looks on, gaping widely. The figure holding the torch takes a step back, then another, then another, and another – six steps backwards he takes before turning to reveal the face of Leonard Nimoy, who stares down at our hero and declares "James T. Kirk". "Excuse me?" Kirk asks.

"How did you find me?" Spock asks, ignoring Kirk's question.

"Whoa, whoa," Kirk asks as he stands, "How do you know my name?" ignoring Spock's question. Waxing poetic, Spock slowly declares "I have been and always shall be your friend."

"Uh, look. I…I don't know you."

"I am Spock." In my first viewing, I really became convinced that some kind of amazing explanation was going to be required for this meeting, such as Spock had gone to the future and seen Kirk killed in this cave, so he had positioned himself to rescue Kirk or something like that which would at least make some kind of sense. But Spock prime was actually surprised to see Kirk, which pushed the series of coincidences and miracle beyond ridiculous for me.

Kirk stares at him for a few moments before deciding this is "Bullshit."

In the next shot, we see the pair sitting opposite each other with a fairly roaring campfire between them, which seems a bit out of place in the absence of anything to burn, such as any trees that would provide limbs like the one Spock is using to poke at the fire.

"It is remarkably good to see you again old friend, especially after the events of today."

No women appear or speak in this segment.

We will get more exposition, but not much more sense in Star Trek by the Minute 076: Meld Begins.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 074: Miracle Cave

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As this segment opens, Kirk continues running (and falling) but this time it is away from the new, larger, and supposedly more dangerous monster. Kirk again is saved by a sheer luck as he falls off yet another cliff. After the cliffhanger and fall in Iowa, the cliffhanger and fall off the Romulan drill platform, and the cliffhanger and fall outside the Katric Ark on Vulcan, with this one we are averaging less than twenty minutes between each "cliff and fall" scene even if we do not count the artificial cliff-like equivalents paird with falling such as those aboard the Kelvin, the drop from the Enterprise shuttle, and Narada. 

The monster pursuing lunch runs to the edge of the level section and continues roaring for some reason, and then this large, presumably successful native predator falls off the cliff as well. Perhaps it's ill.

Meanwhile, Kirk comes to rest on what looks like a frozen lake and the bottom of a depression, in what can only be described as a very unusual formation for glaciers. With the creature tumbling down after him and threatening to crash him, Kirk and starts sprinting at blindly ahead on the ice as the creature recovers and continues its pursuit. In another unbelievable miracle, directly ahead of Kirk the mouth to ice cave appears, complete with a human sized doorway and flat, level flooring enabling him to sprint inside.

The pursuing creature crashes in behind Kirk and lassos his foot with a bifurcated tongue. Despite outweighing Kirk by tons, and that its prey lacks any means to resist, and despite that the creature could just step over and eat its lunch, it is suddenly paralyzed and unable to slurp the wayward former cadet like so much linguini or just step forward and dig in like this was a meat pie eating contest. Another unexplained series of miracles that take no thought or planning to write, but on the upside, the creature looked relatively good as the CGI team demonstrated their considerable talents.

No women appear in the segment.

Leonard Nimoy plugs his book in our next segment of Star Trek by the Minute, Episode 075: I am Spock.

Star Trek by the Minute 073: Only the Delicious Run

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Kirk logs: "Acting Captain Spock has marooned me on Delta Vega." This matches the storyline so far only if we are willing to suspend disbelief about a great many things leading up to this point, and the fact that Vega's home in the constellation Lyra (right ascension 19h, declination +40) is somewhat on the opposite side of Earth from the constellation Eridanus, where Vulcan is placed. Dropping Kirk on Earth would have been quicker. In Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzmann's Trek, habitable planets are easier to stumble across than a Wall Drug billboard.

In a long shot, we see Kirk wandering through a desolate ice-scape, featuring a relatively flat glacial surface broken by large protrusions, somewhat reminiscent of the ship from Aliens, complete with precipitation obstructing our vision and howling windstorms that make hearing difficult, similar to the Nostromo crew's situation.

Kirk judges Spock's actions are "…in what I believe to be a violation of security protocol forty-nine-point-oh-nine governing the treatment of prisoners aboard a starsh…" Kirk's specificity in citing regulations seems a bit too impressive here…after all, we've never seen him crack a book or demonstrate any familiarity with regulations when opportunities presented themselves, such as in the horrible "enlist in Starfleet" conversation or at the Kobayashi Maru debate. Adding this would have helped make Kirk more believable, or 1.5 seconds could have been spared in the escape pod to show him looking at regulations in the pod. Having him jettisoned unconscious is not only an unrealistic plot element in itself, but damages Kirk's character by preventing him from reasonable prep for later actions which a reasonable audience has a right to expect like gathering survival gear or brushing up security regulations. Again, I'm left wondering why Kirk's rattling off such detail in the middle of a tornadic blizzard seemed like a good idea to the writers.

Kirk stops speaking suddenly, and turns to his attention toward the urgent task of gaping open-mouthed through the darkening storm toward an eerie howl, as a moving shadow appears from the swirling gloom. As the shadow nears, thunderous hoof beats accompany snarling as a large, shaggy predator gallops toward Kirk at about 5 times his size, bearing its fangs in threatening displays. Ordinarily, hunting predators tend toward more stealthy actions, but it is possible this giant saber tooth is testing the new primate in the area to see if it runs. If the primate runs, it is probably good to eat – whereas if it appears unconcerned by the large carnivore's approach, it is probably either very dangerous itself, or it could be inedible or even poisonous. Kirk, able to rattle off regs' chapter and verse with 4 significant digits of precision while marooned in the middle of a raging snowstorm on an alien world should have no trouble holding his ground, knowing this has the best chance of preventing an attack in this situation. Nevertheless, he instead chooses to virtually force an attack by running across snow-covered ice in full gear with the apparent idea of escaping the equivalent of a horse-sized arctic predator. We might be tempted to consider this a stupid move on his part and a sloppy decision by the writers, but since Kirk is shown 3 times, mesmerized and with his mouth hanging open, it really seems more embarrassing than anything.

The only thing that could make it worse might be for Abrams & Co. to throw in a couple of miracles to save Kirk's life and limbs from the inevitable consequences of playing the idiot in survival crises. In this case, the otherwise fearsome predator is somehow unable to close the last few feet to reach the bumbling James T., even when he falls. While closing intervening miles to Kirk relatively quickly, once Kirk starts running, the critter miraculously just can't seem to catch up to our hero until it makes a leap for the kill, and a split second before it's claws tear our protagonist to shreds, the ice behind Kirk's feet explodes with clouds of ice and another gigantic predator snatches the oversized sabre-toothed polar bear in the middle of its pounce and starts to chew. Rather than eat the precious protein it has just risked its life to kill, expending many calories, this new creature tosses the fresh, warm, meaty carcass away, runs up to Kirk, stops, and begins roaring – showing off lots of teeth. The scene is impossible not to relate to the similarly ridiculous Phantom Menace scene where the heroes are saved from death when the fish that is eating their submarine is itself attacked in the final split second prior to their certain death. When the main characters are rescued from death by miracles over and over again, it is not spectacular or exciting: it is disengaging, at least for adults.  At least in the frighteningly bad Star Wars Episode I, the carnivore actually ATE its kill, i.e.: it was more "realistic" in terms of known predators' behavior.

This abuse of the audience is reminiscent of the dream sequence in film.  The reason that using dream sequences are among the worst offenders for screenwriting is that any typical adult viewer confronts, if only on a subconscious level, the fact that no dilemma or danger is really any threat, since the dreamer can awaken and all can be well, or we can be made to think so, only to have that reality turn out to be a dream, and so on. The infamous "murder of JR" in the series "Dallas" was perhaps the most egregious example, as the show was written to reintroduce a dead character, a year's worth of narrative was explained away as a dream.

No women appear or speak in this segment.

The chase continues in our next segment, Star Trek by the Minute 074: Miracle Cave.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 072: Glacier Trek

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Getting his bearings, Kirk taps the interface next to his couch and asks: "Computer, where am I?"

"Location: Delta Vega, Class M planet – unsafe. There is a Starfleet outpost 14km to the northwest. Remain in your pod until while I summon the authorities." I have to wonder if anyone else was concerned by a presumably non-sentient computer using the first person to express what she was planning to do. A re-entry within 14km would almost certainly be visible to anyone who was looking up, unless they had really bad eyesight, but this Federation outpost must not have much in the way of sensors.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," Kirk whines as he removes the bandages from his hands. Why he is removing this potential insulation from his hands after just waking up with his pod embedded in ice is unclear, but it doesn't seem very smart. He opens the hatch and exits the pod, climbing out of a deep ice hole with his bare hands. Anyone who lives in or near mountains can probably tell you how likely this is… Nevertheless Kirk is shown not only climbing a vertical wall of ice by his fingertips, but doing so with a gear bag slung over his shoulder.

Mantling the rim of the hole to the surface, Kirk emerges onto some very artificial-looking snow in a computer generated background copied from Hoth or Rura Pente. Panting heavily, he looks around as CGI breath steam reminds us that this ice world is, well, cold. Even though Kirk (or anyone) would not be able to climb ice in their bare hands, he is shown doing so, immediately followed by him wearing gloves to hold a recorder. After clawing through ice and snow with his bare hands, Kirk stands up to take a look around perfectly normally, again convincing us he is not cold and not touching snow or ice which you or I would be frantically removing from our hands if we had just been pawing around in them.

Next, in a long sweeping CGI shot, we see Kirk walking on a seemingly endless glacier broken into large chunks that are separated by huge, nearly impassable crevasses. With minimal experience climbing bare ice and crossing crevasses on snow-covered glaciers in the Andes, I was left wondering how many days it would take to me cover the distance described if I had good experience and how much equipment I would need. Here again, this film continues to show elements that would preclude the actions we are supposed to accept as moving the plot forward. In this case, Kirk would not be able to traverse the landscape we are shown without a huge amount of ice climbing gear that he does not seem to have or know how to use if he did, and without great deal of effort which he does not seem to exert. The so-called "plot" or "story" does not match what is shown on the screen again and again. One of the first rules of writing: "Write what you know."

Orci & Kurtzman not only don't seem to know anything about alpine or glacial trekking, they don't seem to have any interest in talking with someone who does.

Ostensibly clothed in the gear from his nearly weightless duffle and stumbling through a blizzard, our hero records "Stardate twenty-two-fifty-eight-point-four-two, uh, four, uh, whatever."

No women appear in this segment.

In our next segment, the film switches gears from making contradictory blunders, to copying them directly from the Phantom Menace in Star Trek by the Minute 073: Only the Delicious Run.

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