Sunday, April 25, 2010

Star Trek (2009) - The Tone

Time for the tone talk. I noticed in the Overview I forgot one of the many tones this film takes on: dramatic. Don't misunderstand me, I don't think this film ever intends to make you cry, but it does wish to make you emote, occasionally. Interestingly enough, it actually does a good job on this front. Wait, you might say--or perhaps you'd scream "hey asshole"--didn't you think this movie was a ton of garbage? Good god, no! I know the plot review was inordinately long but I put pictures in it, go back and read it! This movie does plenty of things very well, but it doesn't follow through with any of those great things. Starting with the drama, the film starts with a great scene dealing with Kirk's father. We don't know a ton of the characters, but we do know that this guy's son is going to be one of our characters, and that makes him important. He's a sign of what Kirk could be. The next scene is just as lovely, as it's Spock at school. We immediately set up that these other Vulcans wish to get an emotional rise out of Spock to prove their superiority, as Spock is half human. He is fine until one of them refers to his mother in a cruel fashion and then he jumps this kid into some strange bowl and start punching the shit out of him while the other two look on in utter shock and horror. We then see a conversation he has with his father and it's genius. Instead of necessarily "seeing what he will become" we see his eternal internal conflict. We also get to see similarities between Spock and Kirk, as they both have parental complexes, and in the next two scenes we see they are both somewhat rebellious because of this.

This is where the tone gets distracted. The next scene with Kirk is at age twelve, driving a Corvette off a cliff without the audience given any reason or understanding. Where as in the next two scenes and the last two scenes, we had a strong dramatic presence, in addition or regardless of action. Action doesn't need to get in the way, but here's where the film starts letting it do just that. At least in the following scene, we see Spock talking with his mother. He has doubts about joining this Vulcan school, afraid of losing part of himself, and even asks his mother if she thinks it's right. She says she'll be proud of him no matter what he does. This, I believe, adds to his doubt as we see him talking with the board, and when they accept him, they mention his "weakness," which is his mother. Upon hearing this comment, we see Spock's attitude change and he declines entrance into the school. And when we see Spock tell the board in a very polite way that he wishes to express his gratitude, and then "live long and prosper," we all emote a satisfaction we feel similar to when we tell an ex that wants you back to go fuck themselves. The next scene with Kirk does show us a little more about him than the last, but it is still more or less action. So I guess they are going to rely on Spock for the dramatic tone and Kirk for the action tone. The only problem with this is that Kirk and Spock are both used to try and reach a certain dramatic tone when dealing with their growing friendship. With Kirk solely playing action hero, we lose any semblance of motivation that we really get to see, and that butchers the dramatic element much like an ax to the bottom of a tree. We keep all the roots up to a certain point of the trunk and then we say fuck the rest.

So let's talk about the action tone, since as a big blockbuster it decided to get distracted with this tone. Some action sequences are similar to beating a dead horse so much that you hope the little twitches it makes will give it some semblance of life again so you can kill it once more. One of these would be the scene on the drill with Kirk and his Asian buddy (AB). So AB has a sword and one of these people also conveniently has a sword, whilst Kirk and one of the other guys conveniently don't. Isn't it also great that there are only two of these guys in the drill and two of them? I guess this is nit-picking but I can't help myself. Let's move on to the point: this scene could have been intense enough with the fight and the subsequent leaning disc whilst waiting to be beamed, but instead for no reason Kirk jumps off after AB because...what, they have to be beamed together? Actually, this may actually be true, and he wanted to save AB. Consider myself corrected. STILL this scene is horrible because silly-accented man (SAM) beams them while they fall at a ridiculous speed. This scene was more boring than intense because THEY'RE NOT GOING TO KILL KIRK HALFWAY THROUGH THE MOVIE BESIDES we had enough action and intensity already. Once you push it to a certain point the action no longer has any value and the audience can be bored despite all sorts of amazing things going on. Look at Episode II of Star Wars. Watching Obi-wan fly through the asteroid field getting shot at by homing lasers from Jenga Fett where everything gets hit but him for no reason, all the tension immediately dissolves. Much like in Star Trek, when we see Kirk climb up off a ledge for the second time, and we're only an hour into this film. So the action tone is so overbearing it overbears itself. Besides, they cheapen the action by removing all meaning behind it. When you see Neo fight Agent Smith, a lot more is going on here than an awesome action sequence. Same with Luke and Darth Vader in either old Star Wars films. In these action scenes where Kirk and Spock even agree about certain things, see each other both come back from near-death experiences, difficulties (loss of redshirt, loss of Spock's mom), they aren't at all akin to each other. Yes, they are still very different and that shows just fine, but if we could show how they are slowly coming together, this would add meaning behind the action (especially at the end) and the action would no longer be empty, both in that all the tension is dissolved and also in that there's nothing more than just people shooting shit going on. Also, it causes a certain amount of disbelief when SAM can beam Kirk and AB as they fall at super speeds but he can't get Spock's mom as she falls after beaming the others. Is she not projecting a signal? Why didn't Spock do the very thing Kirk did? Spock certainly cares more about his mom than Kirk could have possibly cared about AB. I guess he's not as reckless, but there's still an inconsistency here that needs explanation. All it takes is one line, "Without a signal I can't lock on!" And then SAM can say his other line, "I'm losing her." But we need something, otherwise that scene we saw just minutes ago that wasn't even necessary contradicts this very necessary one. Which is also annoying because she had no reason to be standing way in front of everyone. Why wouldn't she be right next to her husband? We know both of them love each other. Anyways, the action continues to ruin even itself, as well as distract itself from developing any of the deeper meaning (also ruining itself).

Continuing on the action tone, I want to mention a few other scenes that persist on dissolving any tension: Kirk running from monsters on the icy planet, Scotty moving through the tubes after getting beamed back onto the Enterprise, the ease at which Spock destroys the the drill to prevent Earth from being destroyed as well as the ease of him wrecking Nero's ship, Kirk fighting a nobody and once again pulling himself up from a ledge (third time's the charm, right), and finally the Enterprise struggling to get away from being pulled into the black hole that should also be fucking up the entire solar system, especially Earth. Action is meant to add tension, excitement, put the audience on the edge of our seats. Instead, all this action does is reduce tension, become redundant or forced, and the audience is never on the edge of their seats but laid back in their seats, entertained more like a stoned, sedated cat would be entertained, lying on its back, drooling and giggling at season six of The Office, or a show of dogs wearing silly hats.

The sci-fi tone is subtle, but necessary considering it is still a Star Trek film. We see this in the basics, such as the beaming, space travel, and silly outfits. Beyond that we only see it in the time travel element, afterwards. And even that is lightly explored. Since the tone is a regular smorgasbord of all you can eat half-portions, we have a grand total of two scenes that extensively deal with time travel. And by extensively I mean in the same way my studies into getting humped by a retarded dog whilst falling from the top of the Empire State Building are extensive. In the first scene we have Spock logically conclude that Nero has time traveled, then we move on immediately to him kicking Kirk off the ship with no right or decent reason and go back to action sequence, only boring as running from monsters. Fortunately, Spock Prime pops with a magic torch and then does a little more time travel explanation. By that I mean he confirms that there was time travel. Through a black hole...for some reason that's time travel...and this is basically some sort of alternate universe now, which does make sense but we're barely scratching the surface and then Spock Prime is like, "all right fuck that shit we need to get you back to fighting Nero. Here's everything you need, now go."

The comedy in this film isn't always bad. The problem is that it wasn't very regular and that the jokes weren't always good. If you keep the comic relief an actual strong element of the film, you may have bad jokes but if alongside some great ones, the bad ones are still pretty funny. If you just tell a few jokes here and there, we may not even be prepared for them, as an audience. Sometimes this can work in your favor, if they're funny. One such example would be when Kirk and Spock are about to get beamed onto Nero's ship, and Spock has a moment with Uhura, and then Kirk begins to say something and Spock says "I don't want to talk about it." Funny. Or when Kirk is sitting in the captain's chair after the whole mess with the Vulcan homeworld turning into a black hole. They're all trying to figure stuff out, and Spock very quickly before continuing on the logical deduction says, "out of the chair." Clever. But then there are these scenes with Simon Pegg (really funny guy) saying "get down" to some creature, or Kirk saying, "you whistle really loud." And not only do I not laugh, I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to eat yogurt with a butcher knife. I get you want to get some laughs out of the audience, to keep them entertained, but try a little harder or put more in there for us, so when you fail we don't care. Or just don't bother. There was so little in the way of the comedy tone that you may as well just have dropped it. You could have spent more time on the other tones and let this one go. It was about as important as the plot was to Avatar. No one cared about it.

As far as the fanservice goes, it was a necessary tone. I do not think this film would or should have been made without the fanservice element. Every Trekkie Monster in the world would have exploded into a pile of fury and Xenophelia porno. Besides, fanservice is fun. Everyone knows what's happening but somehow we all become giddy school girls excited to get the new Justin Beiber album or hear Lady Gaga on the radio. It would have been nice if the red shirt would have died in a fashion that was a little less forced. Like have him get kicked off by one of the villains, rather than just be a complete moron and pull his chute extremely late, but either way he's going out like a tool. There are two problems with the fanservice element, however. The use of it in order to have Spock Prime undercuts much of the power in the basic film elements (as I've said way too many times before), but there's a subtler, more sinister thing underlying this fanservice. They're taking original characters from the original series, well-developed and intriguing characters many have attached for years and years for many reasons, and then butchering them into one-dimensional kiddy toys. Or worse, just changing them to fufill they're every whim. I don't know about you guys, but if someone went and took my favorite characters from my favorite stories, and rewrote them and changed them and shoved them into a mediocre story with a mediocre plot with mediocre action and a tower of glorious mediocrity, it would feel like a slap in the face with an original Xbox. But then again, maybe Trekkies were pleased with these rewrites. If that's the case, I guess they're entitled to their lifestyle choice, even if it involves living the rest of their life lobotomized.

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