Saw a couple of last year’s sci-fi features over the last week.
Moon is a thoughtful, low-budget, psychological science fiction piece that, in its depiction of one man losing his marbles in the loneliness of space, put me somewhat in mind of that old classic Silent Running. Sam Rockwell turns in not one but two excellent performances as the one-man crew (if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean) of a power-harvesting operation on the moon, and Kevin Spacey backs up as the voice of his Hal-alike sinister robot buddy. He has but days left on his three-year contract when he starts to see things out there, and paranoia and head-fucks ensue. I’d say the outcome is actually a bit less interesting than I was hoping for, but it’s still an intelligent and affecting old-school piece
A film that seemed to deliberately avoid being either intelligent or affecting is the recent “reboot” of Star Trek. I was a huge fan of Next Generation back in the 90s, watched the whole lot of about 160 episodes within a few weeks. Occasionally, and particularly during the Lwxana Troi episodes, me and my friends would shout, “bollocks!” at the tv, but generally I loved that show. I’m also an admirer of JJ Abrams’ Lost and Cloverfield, he produces some clever, original, entertaining stuff. Plus I’d heard some very positive reports of this new take on the original Star Trek from people who really do know the difference, and so I was expecting big things.
I thought it was bad. Let me tell you why.
Star Trek always tried to be clever. It didn’t always succeed, and at its worst it spouted a lot of boring, pretentious pseudo-scientific waffle, but it was always aspirational. It aimed to gel with science, to have internal consistency, and at times it reached real heights, tackled serious science-fictional, ethical, political issues in dramatic and entertaining ways. The reboot … not so much.
Spoilers to follow.
Star Fleet Regulation 619 apparently means that any officer emotionally involved in the mission can be relieved of command. Ignoring the delightfully vague wording, how do you define emotional involvement? Once planets get all blown up and billions killed and the universe as we know it under threat surely we all get a tad emotional, no? And use of said regulation in the film? To allow utterly unqualified Kirk (whose father had been killed by the villain) to replace reasonably qualified Spock (because his mother had been killed by the villain). Wha?
A black hole is not in fact a hyper-dense collapsed star that exerts such powerful gravity that even light cannot escape from its event horizon. No. It iz kind of like a big magic mirror, like out of Zelda, which you can get dragged into and will probly go back in time though I’m not shure how far coz that’s science, but you can get away from it by TOTALLY BLOWING UP YOUR OWN WARP CORE. KABLOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!!!! It is an explosion so ace it is BLUE!!!!!!
Star Fleet is very advanced. The bridge of its latest Flagship USS Enterprise looks like WAY cool with all kinds of transparent shit and ergonomic back-friendly chairs and glowy touch buttons like on an i-phone. But its engine room looks like a soviet-era russian slime factory with big turny-turny wheels and great huge twisty pipes full of bubbly blue water.
Space battles in star trek were once a question of careful decision making and pinpoint timing, all played out within the unimaginable inky vastness of actual space. “Aft torpedoes, fire!” and all that. Proceed at quarter impulse. We all remember the classic sequence of Kirk battling Khan in the nebula, right? It was all about cunning. All slow build-up, then sudden and deadly. Phasers were precise and surgical. But why have one phaser firing when you can have ten thousand? Surely that’ll make the film … 10,000 times better! With the reboot the Enterprise can blaze away like a crap seventies lightshow at an ancient Egyptian monument. Zanger zanger zanger go the pretty fairylights!
Worst of all was the villain, Nero, who seemed to suffer from every crap-villain cliche in the crap-villain rule book. I was talking about how much I enjoyed Avatar the other day (though I seem to have these two films entirely the wrong way round by most people’s estimation), and observing that, despite it’s plotting issues, the villains were pretty convincing. I understood what they were doing and why. When looked at from the villain’s point of view, the film still made sense. Nero’s motivations made no sense, his plan made no sense, his individual actions were all completely mad, and not in a Hannibal Lector way, just in a “I can’t be arsed to work out a story that makes any sense” way. Why did his mining ship look like a thistle? Why was his mining ship so heavily armed it could annihilate a klingon armada (from the future, maybe, but could a modern supertanker defeat a fleet of World War II warships?) Why did he blame the entire federation for the destruction of Romulus? What was he doing in the 25 years between blowing up a federation ship and waiting for Spock to appear? Why did he not try to make contact with the Romulus of the past? Why all the tattoos? Why, why, why, would he maroon Spock on an ice planet to watch another planet explode when he could have kept him on his own bridge to do it, then killed him at his leisure? If you wanted to force someone to watch the destruction of earth, would you maroon them on Saturn? I am quite mad, insanely angry, and absurdly powerful, but only within certain spookily plot-helpful parameters!!! Raaaargh!!!! Even his demise was a rubbish psycho-cliche (No! I would rather die than accept help from you!) SHITTEST. VILLAIN. EVAH.
Now there were glimpses of quality through the haze. Some of the characters were very nicely played, Bones and Spock in particular (though Simon Pegg’s comic relief Scotty was neither comic nor relieving for my money), some of the effects work was nice, and I liked how it was sometimes surprisingly ruthless. There were a good few laughs too, but for me it was like sticking nice bumpers, underlighting and a flash spoiler on an old banger that just don’t go. It had the classic problem of trying to give every character their little moment regardless of whether it made a contribution to the whole. I was too distracted by reeling from one nonsensical clanger to another to ever get immersed in any of the character work or the action. There didn’t seem to be a coherent film there at all, just a load of sequences all tossed together and shot with a really irritating star filter that put sparkly horizontal flares on everything.
I mean, I’m all for a focus on entertainment, especially when converting from small screen to big, after all Star Trek’s most successful film outings have been the most action-oriented (Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country) and its diabolical worst the most self-consciously, pompously intellectual (I cannot speak the name of Star Trek V). And I concede that the franchise was badly in need of a reboot after the largely rubbish Voyager and Enterprise, but I don’t see why we have to so conspicuously disconnect the grey matter. Maybe if I’d seen it on the big screen I’d have been wowed by the scale, like I was with Avatar. Maybe I’ve been harsh, but I was disappointed. It’d be a shame if the sf franchise that aspired to depth and intelligence ended up as dumb and shallow as this.
Say it with me, now. Bollocks!
EDIT: It has been drawn to my attention that Adam Roberts posted an eerily similar review more than six months ago with deeper insight and better gags. Curse these ivory tower sf-hating holloway-don academic english professor types!