I know what you are thinking. “This one is too hard! No reasonable amount of fixes could save that disaster of a movie, you would have to re-shoot the whole thing!”
Wait, that is not what you were thinking? You liked the 2009 reboot of Star Trek? You got suckered by the flashy action and all the lens flare? Yes, it out-sold its predecessors. But let’s face it, the movie is a sad, shallow reflection of the vision that is Star Trek. In other words, that vision might have been imperfectly applied in the past (I’m looking at you, Star Trek V), but JJ Abrams didn’t even try to apply it – instead reducing Star Trek to an action-only franchise. Don’t believe me? JJ has actually been pretty upfront about this – its not a theory, it is words from his mouth.
And that does make a difference to the business here – there are other reasons to fix this then just the desire to make a good movie (since JJ doesn’t seem that interested in that goal). The Star Trek series launched in 1966, 48 years ago. In the intervening years, it has launched 10 motion pictures (not counting the two reboot insults), 5 series for television (not counting the animated series), books, comics, conventions, collectibles, games and more. Does JJ think that would be possible if the original was just an action movie? Think about that for one moment – the Star Trek brand has been worth many billions of dollars in the 48 years since its launch. If that launch, 48 years ago, had just been a slapped-together action franchise, does anyone really think it would have developed into the brand it is today? Given what JJ has been allowed to do to the brand through these two dumbed-down, nonsensical reboots, do the controllers of the brand really think it will make it another 48 years?
If money doesn’t motivate you, Star Trek is credited with breaking ground on many fronts: the first interracial kiss on a network show, one of the first lesbian kisses on a network show, being an influence on the creation of the PDA and portable phone, and winning copious awards including 31 Emmy Awards and many awards from the science-fiction community. And all of that is before talking about perhaps its biggest contribution to society – the popularization of both space travel and science-fiction in general to generation after generation. So much so that NASA has used the brand to interest people in the space program. Again, can you envision all of that wonderfulness coming from the original concept if it had just been an action movie?
In fact, JJ’s only lasting contribution to this beautiful canon is the misogynistic inclusion of extremely flimsy reasons to get co-stars into skimpy underwear.
But enough about what damage this movie caused. Our job is to fix it – so let’s re-film it!
Fix 1: Explain The Destruction of Romulus Better
Again, I know, you are thinking the only real way to fix this disaster is to throw out the script and film entirely, but that is not what we do here at Re-Film It. We have to tweak the minimum we think we can, at the lowest budget we can manage, to save this monster.
To do that, we do have to fix the biggest plot-hole in the pic (though, that is like saying Jupiter is the biggest planet – they are all pretty big). Romulus is destroyed by a supernova – with a complete failure to evacuate the planet and the failure by Spock to deliver red matter in time to make a difference (we will get to the ridiculousness that is red matter soon – don’t you worry). As has been well covered by others, this is completely insane and poor science-fiction at its worst. It is also the same sort of insult to the audience that we had to step in and fix in Man of Steel – its the kind of blatant impossibility that says “I assume my audience is a bunch of unthinking imbeciles there only to see explosions.” Of all the reasons this plot device is so insulting, the one that I think is the most burning is Spock’s failure to deliver the deus ex machina – because his travel time to where he needs to be to block the supposed energy wave is completely calculable. Did he run into traffic? Run out of gas and had to stop on the turnpike? You already insulted the audience, but now you insult the most loved character in the franchise by claiming he fumbled the simple calculation of it takes N minutes to travel to destination X traveling at warp Y.
The supernova was a terrible idea (and indeed, there are any number of other pseudo-scientific phenomenon that would have fit the needed parameters so much better – like proximity to Romulus) but one we are stuck with unless we are going to burn a lot of capital re-shooting some of the movie’s big special effects shots. We will keep the supernova, because we are going to need the budget later on to clean up all the other mess. But to have it not be a cold slap in the face of every person in the audience, we are going to have to re-shoot a bit of dialog to have it make more sense.
Let’s try to just slightly tweak this hackneyed plot device into making a little more sense. During the mind-meld scene where all this background is revealed, include a few rewrites.
- Make the exploding star closer to Romulus.
- Quickly explain the failure to evacuate Romulus (the most likely reason being that the Romulans put all their eggs in the basket of stopping the energy wave, but there are a million other reasons that could be included).
- For the love of Scotty, explain how Spock would fail to arrive on-time – and make it something meaningful, not a mistake.
A few candidates for number 3: the matter he is carrying has an unexpected effect on warp travel, one that is not discernible to the person inside the warp field. Or, perhaps more fun, fall back on a time paradox – Nero’s trip to the past diverts Spock, its always fun to struggle with the chicken-and-egg problems of time travel. Again though, there are a million ways to sure this up.
The point here is one I think we will run into quite a bit on Re-Film It – it only takes a sentence or two of dialog to close some plot holes. Maybe not close them perfectly, but close them. Not going through the effort to include just one sentence for your audience is an insult to your audience – and that type of treatment of your customer-base is always bad business.
Fix 2: Explain Red Matter
Its clear that Star Trek’s previous efforts to stay as close to real science as they could manage and still tell their story was not an effort JJ intended to carry on. The supernova is not the only flawed science in the movie, in fact its pretty clear the creators didn’t care at all about the science of the story. But to have such a flimsy piece of science as a magic bubble of matter that can make black holes again undermines a big part of what Star Trek stands for. In including such a clear refusal to care about the science of the plot, you erode the values of the franchise and what those values have built. What is worse, just as above, it could have been improved through the most minor of efforts.
Again, we cannot completely undo the silliness here, as red matter becomes a fairly pivotal plot device, notably destroying Vulcan and altering the Star Trek timeline. As mentioned above, fixing this really just amounts to a bit of dialog (though given the money, I would spring to improve some of the special effects to have the presentation of “red matter” more closely match the ideas below).
- What you really mean by “red matter” is “exotic matter” – something with properties that say, let you store it at one density then quickly change its density through some sort of reaction. The idea of exotic matter is not new to Star Trek, to science-fiction, or even to science. Fitting in a small bit of dialog to just say that gives you at least some ground on which to build from, and once again not treat your audience like unthinking $10 bills. Splurge even, include a sentence on where it came from, why Starfleet has it or is investigating it, and so on. Give it a little depth – a few lines of dialog, and you will be surprised how much it adds to the story, whereas offering no explanation hurts the story.
- Now that you are calling it what it is, the fact that trying to transport exotic matter, experimental exotic matter at that, could well have effected Spock’s ship, giving us a good explanation for why Spock failed to get to his needed location in time.
- If you go that route, be sure to include some explanation as to why someone as cautious as Spock would try to transport experimental matter as the solution to the supernova problem. We are painting ourselves into a bit of a corner here because we are sticking with the ideas of the supernova and trying to stop it via a black hole – an already flawed plot setup. Our fixes above improve the situation but we still have some holes here. Saying Starfleet made some bad decisions on how to help might work, but we have all seen Spock ignore Starfleet orders before. Maybe the stubborn Romulans refused all other forms of aid? That probably works a little better…
Special note: others have complained of the flimsiness of the explanation that the drill disrupted communications, beaming, and every other technology that had to be conventiently disabled for the space jump and sword fight scenes. So we could also fix some of that with the same fixes above – perhaps our experimental exotic matter is destabilizing as time goes, and the more it destabilizes, the worse the effects on nearby spacetime. We are still disabling all the technologies just to fit in some fairly lackluster action scenes, but again, we can only fix so much without throwing out the whole mess, which is not our charter!
Fix 3: Treat Science and Technology With Reverence
Both fixes above are essentially fixing moments where I envision JJ Abrams and the writers said to each other “I don’t really get all this science stuff, and its not important to making an action movie, so lets just call it ‘red matter’” or “lets just say Spock didn’t make it time, no one will care how”. This attitude is the exact opposite of how the original Star Trek dealt with science and technology. And making this change removes the 2009 Star Trek from strata that contains 2001 and the Foundation series and instead lumps it in with Skyline. We have fixed two of the most glaring occurances of this above, but unfortunately the picture is riddled with other, smaller examples.
These smaller examples are death by a thousand cuts – they add up to a film that can’t possibly hold up the canon that came before it. While we don’t have the budget to go back and actually include some of the respect for science and technology that Gene Roddenberry had, we can at least edit out some of the crap to reduce the feeling of “blatant disregard” the film has.
- Saying the time-travel phenomenom looks like a “lighting storm in space” – no scientist, astronaut or professional in any form would use such terminology.
- Showing the Enterprise being built on-planet, when the whole origin of beaming was because the design for the Enterprise was as a space-only vehicle.
Take your pick of the many similar problems that have been cited by others: portraying the engine room as some sort of water recycling plant, trans-warp beaming, the list can go on.
These fixes require mostly the (now virtual) scissors. Just remove the snippets of dialog and the tail end of a few scenes. They are offering no value to moving the plot forward anyway. So just cut them!
In this case, we have only taken the movie from “insulting” to “tolerable”. But we cut out many of the insults to both the audience and the Star Trek canon. We tried to restore a sense of respect for both science and technology and in doing so, maybe, just maybe, this will feel a bit less like an action movie. We couldn’t go in and make this an actual science-fiction film – to do so would have been too deep a rewrite to bother to call this the same movie. But through our usual minimum of changes, we have at least tried to let some story come to the forefront, instead of just special-effect sequences and phaser fights.
Unlike our normal contract end though, I find it important to offer some advice to the decision makers controlling the Star Trek brand. Above we outline what potential damage this dumbed-down view of Star Trek potentially did to the brand and Star Trek’s legacy. How did you and JJ Abrams follow up that damage? With the even worse Into Darkness. By “even worse” here I mean that movie again refuses to be a science-fiction film and once again reduces the brand to a flashy action movie. There are even bigger plot holes, even more unexplained “magic” plot devices, and perhaps most insulting, we once again don’t actually go boldy where no one has gone before, we go only to places we have been in the previous movie. Rather than trying to re-film the second insult, might we suggest you instead replace the director and writers with a team that actually understands the importance of your brand and canon?
Let this serve as a warning to Disney as well, though clearly its already too late. If JJ delivered this type of damage to the valueable brand that is Star Trek, what do you think is going to happen to Star Wars, a brand already in jeapoardy!?