A while back P. Z. Myers wrote a snotty, obnoxious post about how much he hated the big Les Miz movie. Now, I happen to be a bit protective of Les Miserables. I regard the original novel as the finest ever written, and I think the stage version of the musical does a good job of capturing the novel’s spirit (far better than any of the many non-musical movie versions). The movie musical certainly had its problems (Click here for my review), but overall it was pretty good. If it was truly the worst movie experience of his life, as P. Z. claimed, then I must assume that he sees only the very best movies.
Still, I held my tongue. Different strokes and all that. He doesn’t have to like the same movies that I like. But now he has a review up of the new Star Trek movie, and I find myself growing vexed. He didn’t like it:
I was off in the big city (Alexandria, Mn) to run some errands, and I figured as long as I was there, I’d catch the latest summer blockbuster. I went in with low expectations: I’d heard it was just a fun action movie, mere mindless entertainment. The reviews underestimated the movie; it wasn’t just mindless, it was in a vegetative state. This movie was so stupid it was stillborn with acephaly. This movie sucked so bad it was a miracle that the Hawking radiation didn’t kill the audience.
Now, that was pretty much my view of the first J. J. Abrams Star Trek movie. But this one was much better, I thought. Of course, the story does not hold up to serious scrutiny, but that’s true of any action movie. If you’re making complaints like this, for example:
- Listen. If you’re on a flying vehicle weaving at high speed through the sky, don’t stand toe-to-toe with someone else and punch them. Especially not with the flailing haymakers that everyone tosses around in this movie. You’ll fall off.
- If you jump off a flying vehicle weaving at high speed through the sky, planning to land on another flying vehicle weaving at high speed through the sky, you probably won’t. You’ll miss, fall thousands of feet, and go splat. If you do fall 50 feet and land on top of another flying vehicle weaving at high speed through the sky, you will bounce, slip, and fall off to go splat and die. You will not land, scrabble a bit, catch yourself and stand up, and then start punching someone.
then just stop going to action movies. You might as well complain about Spider-Man on the grounds that getting bit by a radioactive spider doesn’t actually give you spider powers. The correct criticism here is that the scene is unoriginal and too frenetic to be enjoyable. But that it’s implausible? Really?
At least on the merits of that one P.Z. is right, even if it’s just silly and churlish to point it out. But most of his other points are just flat stupid. Let’s consider a few:
At the very beginning, a protagonist is being lowered into an erupting volcano on an alien planet. No, not lowered — careening at the end of a cable dangling from an out of control, damaged shuttle craft. His cable melts, he falls. Does he fall into magma, aaaaiee, hisss, die? No, he lands on a solid rock floating in a lake of magma. Does he splatter, bounce, break, fall into magma, aaaaiee, hisss, die? No, he drops his tools, gets up, gathers them, goes about his business.
Vulcans are actually pretty good at controlling their emotions and going about their business. They’re also physically much more resilient than humans. And why shouldn’t he land on a solid rock? Something similar happened in an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive. As for careening at the end of a cable, that’s because the plan was put together very quickly and somewhat recklessly, which is relevant to understanding Kirk’s character.
Meanwhile, two other protagonists are running frantically away from alien primitives who are throwing spears at them. Why were they even in the village? Don’t know. All the important action is going on in the volcano. This is something the movie often does: if a problem does not require gratuitous physical conflict to solve it, people will be thrown into it anyway to flail and thrash around.
They were in the village specifically to lure the villagers away from the danger. They accomplished this by stealing an artifact that was precious to the people living there, knowing that the villagers would then chase them. This was explained, albeit very quickly.
This volcano, which is actually on the smallish and mostly unprepossessing side, has a small village of aliens at its base. When it erupts, it’s going to destroy the entire world and the aliens will go extinct. It makes no sense. Somehow corking up one volcano while two crew members run through the jungle will save the planet.
That volcano sure looked pretty big to me. As for it wiping out the aliens, why is that implausible? Has P. Z. never heard of Pompeii?
The aliens are doomed anyway. They all seem to be male.
OK, that was just the opening scene. It has no bearing on the rest of the movie at all. I’ll be less specific for the rest.
I guess P.Z. missed the part where the opening scene established Kirk’s recklessness, which led to him losing his command and reevaluating his priorities, and which also led him into a gross violation of the Prime Directive, which set up the dramatic tension between him and Spock, which added to the emotional impact of later events. No bearing. Sheesh!
Some of his points are reasonable. In movies like this, the plot never really hangs together, after all. (Why does the American head of Starfleet have a British daughter?) But for the most part I thought things hung together well enough. If you’re reduced to making points like this, then you’re really getting desperate:
The warp core of a giant starship can get “out of alignment”, which can then be fixed by a guy going into the core and kicking it back into place.
Oh please. The audience has to be able to follow what the characters are doing. Kicking the warp core back into place was a big improvement over what you usually get in scenes like this, where the characters frantically rearrange circuit boards, or fiddle around with wires, or mix random chemicals, or do something else that is completely incomprehensible to the audience. You are allowed to use a little imagination here. The point was that Kirk heroically sacrificed himself to save his ship. Who the heck cares about the minutiae of how he actually repaired the ship?
And to top it all off, just try to believe that P.Z. actually wrote this:
Giant interstellar spaceships can get shot up, suffer massive internal explosions that tear them up internally and rupture their structure, and then fall out of the sky to crash on earth. They can be of a grossly non-aerodynamic design in addition to having massive structural damage, but they will still manage to skid into San Francisco Bay, bounce a few times, then go sliding into San Francisco, shattering skyscrapers and leveling entire city blocks, before coming to a stop.
Then the sole occupant will jump out of a hole in the side to jog through the city. He will have one small scratch on his cheek.
Non-aerodynamic design? It’s a spaceship, you idiot! It spends most of it’s time flying around in a near-perfect vacuum. And when the sole occupant is a genetically-engineered superman, perhaps it’s not so unreasonable that he could get out largely unscathed.
For a much better article about some of the implausibilities of the Star Trek universe, have a look at this. P.Z.’s blog post was strictly amateur hour.