June 20th, 2013

krazy koati

Let the world around us just fall apart

We've started seeing movies again. We hadn't meant to stop, we just went a couple months without anything looking particularly appealing and what with stuff keeping us busy, well, who had time to go see something we just weren't looking for? We turned out to be wrong about this, because we'd have gone to see The Croods sooner if we'd known something key about it, but we learned about that fact only after planning to go see Star Trek Into Darkness. I don't believe there's any plot spoilers here, but who knows where comments will lead, so, be warned.

Something which bugged me about the film: as in the first, there's travel between one planet and another at warp speed that takes maybe like five minutes. Not five minutes of screen time --- I know no movie however overlong is long enough to sustain that these days --- but like five minutes for the characters. This bugs me because it's the final surrender of the last bit that made Star Trek a Space Western: the sense of remoteness, isolation, separation from civilization which could put Our Heroes in a spot where they're so overwhelmed by the forces of chaos arrayed against them that no one would ever know they were there to be defeated. The Original Series traded on this most heavily in its first season --- where the sense of isolation is most palpable, and precious, and rare among space-action shows --- and later shows nearly forgot it, but it had been there, and while it may be fun Space Opera to have the remote parts of the galaxy closer to me than East Lansing is, it's still a closing-off of something that made the original special. How can Our Heroes be on their own if Home is four minutes away?

The other bothersome thing is that, early on, Kirk breaks a Rule. This produces scenes of him being chewed out for Breaking Rules and hasn't got any real relevance to the rest of the movie. This sort of scene happens a lot, in Star Trek and in other franchises, and you probably guessed, nobody thinks to say anything about why the Rules are important. Why not? Well, because in Pop Culture, the Rules are just ways that the Hero is slowed down from Doing What's Right, is why; it's a pro-vigilante, anti-organization motif that focus groups found successful so we mustn't dare violate their edicts.

It's easy to make a case for Rules, though. For example: it's hard to think of everything, particularly in a moment of crisis; how do you know you're not overlooking something important --- a life, a principle, the entire point of whatever it is you're doing --- in that rush? How do you know you're not doing something that looks promising but which experience --- or foresight --- indicates will lead to catastrophe? How do you know you're not just making life, actually, harder for yourself later on? The best Rules are safeties against the world's ability to overwhelm our good judgement; they're good judgement made secure and tucked where you can't miss them. They shouldn't be ignored without knowing the context, purpose, and reasoning behind them, and without understanding of why they might not be appropriate in this case; and if I can whip that up, surely the Admiralty can give Kirk a couple sentences to that effect.

There's good stuff, of course; particularly, they've let the people making alien costumes run wild with very good effect. The parliament-of-(humanoid)-aliens probably hasn't ever been done better on Star Trek, especially as so many of them are implicitly part of the starship's crew. And there's pretty good use of sets that look lived in, and the casual use of neat or eye-popping technology without dreary expository lumps. The plot also keeps edging its way towards being thoughtful, as if it's trying to be a better movie than it is.

Trivia: Around 1830, Britain produced four-fifths of the world's coal. Source: Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese.

Currently Reading: Squeeze This! A Cultural History Of The Accordion In America, Marion Jacobson. I'm quite enjoying the book, but it can say stuff like ``[ Viola Turpeinen ] may not have been he only Scandinavian accordionist to become a celebrity, but she had the most appeal beyond that community.''