Impopular Culture

Impopular Culture

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Coming at the world from an unexpected angle, far too fast to stop.

To Boldly Not Go

WritingPosted by Pelotard 2016-12-05 14:50:23

Today’s song: well, I’m writing a review of a Star Trek movie, what do you expect?

So, last night I finally got around to watching the new Star Trek movie, Beyond. And it prompted me to write this review. Especially because of the writing, because the acting was quite good, the special effects were, well, special, and the science was non-existent, but that’s about par for the course, I don’t watch Star Trek for the scientific credibility. (If you do, please get out of this blog as it's likely to offend you.)

So, what’s with the writing?

It was spectacularly bad. And it was, above all, spectacularly failing to be Star Trek.

The ”spectacularly bad” is quickly recapped, and I don’t think there’s even going to be any spoilers in here. The action sequences were far too long, and failed completely to move the plot in any direction at all. The first big action sequence introduced the antagonist after about three minutes, and then went on for another fifteen minutes just to get the Enterprise crew down onto the planet, while I was yawning and wishing they’d get on with the movie.

This was a common feature of the action scenes. They went nowhere in particular, and took forever to get there. When they drag on for so long that you can figure out how they’re going to end, they’re too long. The viewer (or, when you’re writing, the reader) should never be allowed to get ahead of the plot; that way lies boredom. It’s important to keep in mind even if you’re writing an emotional drama, but when it happens in a thriller, you’re failing the one basic requirement. (Hint: it’s in the name of the genre.)

And then there was the antagonist. Oh wow, the antagonist. It started out so incredibly promising. An alien with a grudge against the Federation.

This could be Star Trek at its finest. This could be, say, an alien race that had joined the Federation, which had destroyed their ancient way of living. The Federation acting, from a certain point of view, like the Borg, assimilating everything in its way to turn in into identical copies of itself. The antagonist could parade some ancient values, have some very legitimate grievances. And Kirk and Spock, or better still Uhura, could explain why they were not the Borg (without actually mentioning them, of course, this is before Picard, after all), how individual freedom can sometimes lead to changes, but we can never judge those changes without judging the people who thought a different way of living was actually better than the old, how the filter of nostalgia will lead us to forget everything that was bad about the old ways, how freedom of choice must mean that we accept that choice, even if we disagree, and generally win the day on moral arguments alone.

Did you notice how extremely well this fits with a narrative of the modern world? How Star Trek, in the best Star Trek tradition, explains why progress is a good thing, overall, even if something is sometimes lost along the way? And yes, how this is not even a defense, but a celebration of the modern and the liberal over the ancient and the tribal? And how right-wing populists all over the world would burst just as many veins as they did when Shatner and Nimoy had black female officers and Russian officers on the bridge and celebrated peace in the future on TV while the Vietnam war and the Cold war went on in reality?

Alternatively, they could see it as a grand tragedy. I’m with the Federation, I don’t really care much how Trump or Farage see it.

But noooo. The antagonist hates the Federation because he was shipwrecked and couldn’t manage to get an SOS through because there was a nebula in the way. He hates the Federation because the radio broke. In essence, the antagonist is bad because antagonists are bad. He’s not even right in his own, distorted view of the world, he’s just gone nuts. The cheapest, laziest and most profoundly uninteresting antagonist you can think of if you sit down and deliberately try.

Don't do that. Your antagonist is every bit as important as the protagonist. The antagonist needs to be cunning, skillful, and, from his own perspective, the protagonist of a tragedy. The protagonist will need to win the day by being morally superior, and maybe smarter. If your protagonist is only able to win over incompetent idiots by being better than them at fighting, all you have is a piece of rather inferior, morally questionable violence.

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