Now and then I listen to a podcast called The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, which is basically about debunking popular myths like UFOs and ghosts and homeopathy with scientific skepticism. Sometimes they also review the science in science fiction movies, and a while back they looked at Star Trek: Into Darkness. I skipped it because I hadn’t seen it yet, and I’ve been waiting for Amazon Prime to let me rent it ever since. This week I finally got around to watching it.
Oh my. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I seem to recall the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek was pretty good, and there weren’t any glaring problems with it. (If you accept time travel and parallel universes, of course.) I mean, I’m sure there were some, because there always is, but nothing that felt like I’d been slapped in the face and called a complete moron. Unfortunately there were a lot of moments like that in Into Darkness, and the whole time I kept thinking, “Wow, those guys on the Skeptic’s Guide must have had a field day with this movie.”
The very first scene (which is unrelated to the movie plot so it’s not really a spoiler — think of it like a James Bond movie where that first action scene is just there to draw you in) had Spock being lowered into a volcano on a cable (wearing a protective mirror suit, obviously!). The cable broke and then he fell and landed on a little island of rock in the middle of a glowing hot sea of boiling lava. He then proceeded to detonate a cold fusion bomb which “froze” the glowing hot orange lava into stone just as it was erupting. Oh, yeah, and they landed the Enterprise underwater, right near the shore, too.
Welp, J.J. Abrams lost every ounce of credibility he gained from the first movie just in that one scene. He took the Star Trek franchise from the well-established territory of sort-of-plausible science straight down to the level of a cheesy comic book.
I get what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to get back to the roots of The Original Series, which was a lot more action-y than anything that came after it. That was back when Kirk led every mission, hit someone double-fisted every episode, and dueled with Gorns. (Not like the later years of Picard, etc. who debated every decision with the crew and solved every problem with diplomacy. Yawn.) But still, there was never anything in TOS that defied the basic laws of common sense. Like, you know, humans working inside volcanos.
It’s not that the science in movies has to be perfect. But can you at least maybe run your science fiction script by someone that has been to an astronomy class one time in their life? Or even someone that has read a Wikipedia article on astronomy? Maybe consider the possibility that the crayon drawing you did in second grade of a spaceship that can fly in space and also dive underwater could be an engineering challenge to build?
The rest of the movie is similarly bad. Science aside, I don’t remember everyone being a caricature of their TOS character in the last movie. I mean, I don’t remember Chekov’s accent being so ludicrously thick. I don’t remember Bones saying “Dammit man” every other line. I don’t remember Scotty saying “I canna dooit” every other line. It’s like they were doing comedic impersonations of the characters. There was another red shirt joke. It was funny in the first movie (because they didn’t really hang a lantern on it) but in the second it felt like fan service. There were tons of references to Wrath of Khan which fell pretty flat. They picked the most over-used things to emulate. “The needs of the many…” “My god, the man’s talking about logic…” “Kaaahhhhhhn!” I laughed out loud at that one. That whole scene was so out-of-place it hurt. I mean, we’ve only known these characters for two movies, and now suddenly we’re supposed to care about them? Well, I don’t! So there! And they have only known each other a short time in the movie universe, and now suddenly they’re all like, “awwww you’re my best friend.” They haven’t even done their 5-year mission yet.
One more thing … people in movies these days always seem to be able to survive falls of hundreds of feet. What’s up with that?