Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Defense of Star Trek Into Darkness [Part III - The Story]

Holy Moses, we're going into three parts of this tirade. (Part I covered Khan, Part II covered Kirk.) The only thing fueling this is the endless war online I see between those who love it and those who hate it. So, in those arguments, there are the common points for and against Star Trek Into Darkness that a lot of people tend to raise:

  • too much action/SFX, not enough Shakespeare quotes and thought-provoking philosophical questions
  • messy script
  • considered a "rip off" of the episode "Space Seed" from the Original Series and of The Wrath of Khan (both stories involving the villain Khan, if you were wondering)

*****If you've never seen the movie and wish to avoid spoilers, TURN BACK NOW. I will have to touch on a lot of spoilers in this argument. *****

No matter which Trek movie it is, I die a little every time they break the Enterprise...

Too much action/SFX

So, JJ Abrams has been given a lot of flack by old school Trekkies/Trekkers for his abundant use of special effects. If there's one thing that is near and dear to the hearts of Star Trek fans, it is the underdog status of the franchise. It has always been woefully limited by budget which made it all the more dependent on powerful storytelling, much like a stage play. It was always theatrical and thought-provoking with laughable props and sets. That has always been the charm of Star Trek in contrast to the razzle dazzle of the likes of Star Wars.

The USS Enterprise rising out of the ocean. Awesome scene, makes no sense.

JJ Abrams gave us the first real taste of elite special effects in Star Trek with his 2009 reboot. It won an Oscar in the Makeup category, and this year Into Darkness was nominated for visual effects along with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. By the standards of "the Industry" Star Trek is moving on up. However, old fans think it's at the expense of the storytelling. Many are convinced that these new movies have the original creator Gene Roddenberry rolling in his grave.

So, in order to even begin comparing the AU Trek to Roddenberry's original brain child, we need to strip away all good and bad SFX and look at the stories themselves (performances of actors is something else entirely that I won't get into here).

Not Enough Shakespeare or Philosophy

This can be generalized best as the use of themes. Star Trek has always been about messages and morals and I've read many a forum where Trekkie's complained of a complete lack of themes. Just because a story isn't as outwardly preachy about the lesson to be learned in the episode of the week, that doesn't mean there aren't messages being conveyed. As an English major, I can find themes in just about any story or sentence with the right amount of context. That being said, you don't need to study English to figure it out because Abrams gave us that context at the end of the film with the dedication to the post 9/11 veterans.

One thing that has muddled the criticisms of Into Darkness is that the haters say it missed the point of the original Wrath of Khan, but then they accuse it of being a carbon copy of the film. I would like to point out that it missed the point because the circumstances of the story are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. (Sorry to go all caps there, but no one seems to get just what an alternate universe it...) In The Wrath of Khan, the character were much older and had a different history together and behind them-- hence the themes of aging, death, mistakes, revenge, and regret.

 Into Darkness has the characters much, much younger and faced with different challenges. The themes that pop up here include some of the same, but some new ones too: Loss, revenge, justice, sacrifice, consequence, maturity, and humility. If you can't find as many philosophical questions in the gray areas of Into Darkness like you could with The Wrath of Khan then you might be watching movies wrong.

To be fair, the script was a little messy, but only because it moved so quickly. They had a lot of story to cram into 132 minutes so it moved too quickly and didn't afford enough moments for the audience to take a breath. This especially took away from the impact of Kirk's death at the end of the movie, but I don't think it took away from the necessity of it. (See Part II about Kirk.)

Run, run, run, run, run, run, run! AU Trek has more running than the rest of the franchise combined.

As far as quotes from Mr. Shakespeare go, I love them to death. I am always tickled when Star Trek villains quote Hamlet (like General Kang did in abundance in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) or the fact that more than half of the Original Series episode titles are from Shakespeare's plays. There is no shortage of literary references throughout the Star Trek franchise, and in a way its the classics that make the sci fi work.  But that's me as an English major and a fan of melodrama. JJ Abrams had to appeal to a wider audience, so putting literary quotes in the middle of a more realistic Trek would have added a level of camp that would have ruined the integrity of the script for this generation. (I wish he would have done it anyway, but I understand the marketing tactic...)

Into Darkness "Rehashing" Old Ideas

(I put "rehash" in quotation marks because that's the word everyone seems to be most liberal with.)

Yes, Into Darkness touched on a lot of familiar territory, especially where The Wrath of Khan is concerned in the last act of the film. For many people, this made it amazing or it was just the last straw. I think it's fair to have either sentiment, but for me it was amazing (surprise!). I gave up watching movies or reading books for plot twists after M. Night Shyamalan became popular and subsequently fizzled out of all popularity. I don't aim to be shocked or surprised, I just want a story I can get invested in.

Into Darkness is accused of lacking all originality, which is completely unfair. Trekkies, of all people, should be familiar with just how often ideas are rehashed in the Trek franchise. For example, Star Trek: The Motion Picture had it's villain V'Ger, which was pretty much just Nomad from the episode "The Changling," but with a different name. And a lot of added special effects to amaze the audience. The movie was terrible, but I don't recall anyone saying it was because of "rehashed ideas." Another example: How was Nero from Star Trek (2009) not a Romulan version of Khan in The Wrath of Khan? Don't get me started on how often they used the malfunctioning holodeck of The Next Generation.

"From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For Hate's sake, I--" Oh wait. Nero from Star Trek (2009).

The point is, ideas get recycled in stories. It's a sad fact of writing in fiction. So, it's not about the concept, it's about the execution. Rather than creating another Khan-based villain, the writers elected to just go with Khan himself. It's a bold move, obviously. But how could they not? Khan is the Moriarty to Kirk's Sherlock Holmes, the Lex Luthor to Kirk's Superman. We know the extent of their rivalry and this is a chance to see more potential for it. I always felt there were lost story possibilities between Kirk and Khan with the brief encounters they had in "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan.

On a final note, I'd like to point out that JJ Abrams et al snagged the perfect excuse for rebooting a franchise while allowing themselves creative freedom: They made it an alternate timeline. I find that to be the most respectful move they could have made for the original, since it separates it enough to not step on toes or erase a long established history. It covers all of their bases, from changed character arcs to improved technology. (Heck, it could even explain why Carol Marcus is suddenly British!)

We Trekkies have suspended our disbelief this long, why not do the same for Star Trek Into Darkness?

Read Part I - Khan
Read Part II - Kirk

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The New Jacobin Club

So, I received a ridiculously flattering compliment recently in the form of a book review. It was written by Xerxes Praetorius Horde of The New Jacobin Club. Sounds slightly random, but it's really not.

I discovered The New Jacobin Club through an ad on Facebook that was offering free downloads of something that could only be classified as Steampunk Heavy Metal. I'm not so hypocritical to say I wasn't pulled in by the prospect of free music. So, I got the music and fell in love with it. Not instantly, mind you, simply because it wasn't like the "Steampunk" music I was accustomed too (e.g., Clockwork Quartet, Abney Park, etc.). Because NJC has the heavy metal element combined with cellos. What especially struck me was the storytelling behind it. Each performer has a character and a story and I'm a sucker for fiction. At least, for the sake of the mortal men, let's hope they're fictitious...

The New Jacobin Club (picture taken from their website. Click to visit their page!)

I enjoyed the free music and sent a response to The Horde, and he responded. In fact, NJC has an exceptional awareness of the fans. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about them and their work. It is very much my kind of style-- Demons, dark societies, corruption of humanity. These subjects have always fascinated me in Victorian literature, and I always found it seriously lacking the Steampunk genre. And The New Jacobin Club has it all.

I've only written one story that could fall into the Steampunk category, if on a very subtle level-- The Brethren Souls. So, I shared it with The Horde, hoping it would (to some degree) fall into the sphere of interest for the NJC. I would like to think that it did, because the review was positive, but more importantly, it tells me that my book was understood for what it is.

Of course a good review will make any author giggle and bounce around like a prepubescent girl (don't lie, dudes) but this one was especially exciting because I received it from another artist that I respect the hell out of. They are talented, intelligent, and ridiculously down to earth. Their music certainly can stand on its own, but the brief email correspondence with The Horde himself solidified my interest in everything they do. I may or may not be under the manipulative power of otherworldly demons.

You can listen to a vast playlist of their music on their website, or just click here to go directly to it!