Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: The Lack of a False “I Understand You” Moment in Star Trek Beyond

I just watched Star Trek Beyond and boy is it limp. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not an utter horrorshow like the last one— If I had to pick one word to describe it, I would just choose “lazy.”

We start off with an unexciting cold open, played for laughs, in which Kirk, standing still, gets attacked by little creatures. This ends quickly without any real jeopardy, then we have a dreadful 15 minutes of “character scenes” in which Kirk wallows in vague ennui. Then an alien woman shows up asking that the Enterprise save her planet (or something, it’s not clear.) As soon as the Enterprise shows up at her planet, it gets attacked and destroyed by some bad guys. Escaping to the planet below, Kirk realizes that the woman who asked them to come there did so knowing that they were being lured into a trap to be destroyed. At first she claims she had to do so to save her crew, and then she seems to be working with the bad guys maybe, and then she’s killed off unceremoniously.

The movie’s biggest problem is that this alien woman makes no impression on us before she betrays our heroes. Helping her is the entire motivation for the movie! In the whole epic scene in which the Enterprise gets destroyed, they’re sacrificing everything to save her, but she’s barely had any lines!

This movie needs what Frozen had: a fake “I understand you” moment. Kirk should be hesitant to help her until she reaches out to him with an impassioned cry of the heart that makes him care so much that he’s even willing to sacrifice his ship to help her in her cause (whatever that cause was. Again, it was unclear). They should bond deeply, and we in the audience should feel moved by her story.

Of course, it’s tricky, you don’t just want an unfair fake-out. As with Hans in Frozen, you want to be able to rewatch the movie and realize “Oh, I can see how she’s faking him out, and how what she’s saying can actually be taken either way.” But even the unfair version would be better than what they have. You can’t just assume that the audience will sympathize with a victim because we’re told (falsely) that she’s a victim. You have to make us feel that, or we won’t care (with good reason, in this case.)

(Another problem here is that the movie decides that, after 50 successful years of Star Trek, they’re suddenly going to worry about the language translation problem, so they have the woman speaking in her alien language, with a little automatic translator on her lapel repeating the words in English. Before this, for all intents and purposes, everybody in the Trek universe just spoke English, and that worked just fine. Why mess with success? The way they do it makes it even more impossible to empathize with her.)


Rochelle Krause said...

I just started trying to watch this movie, emphasis on "trying." I was surprised at how quickly I lost interest and it was around the time that the character of which you speak double-crosses Kirk. I agree with your use of the word "lazy" which I think describes so many Hollywood movies today. They keep forcing on us things like 3D, 60fps, VR and AR because apparently those are easier to execute than a solid script.

Jane said...

I think "lazy" is about right. I wanted so badly to like this movie, and I did enjoy watching it, but I frequently just wanted it to be one or two iterations... better.

One scene that really tweaked my writing sensibilities was where Kirk made an impassioned plea for Jaylah (the black-and-white warrior alien) to help him in his effort to assault Krall's base and rescue his crew. His argument came down to something along the lines of "All I can tell you is, we stand a better chance with you than without you."

Uh, yeah, that's a great reason for Kirk to want her on the mission. I'm not sure why it was meant to be so persuasive to Jaylah.

It was especially irritating because she began this scene by talking about how her father died helping her escape from Krall years ago. And Kirk started out the whole movie dealing with grief over his father's death, so it seemed like a perfect time for an "I Understand You" moment... he could have talked about how they were both alive because their fathers had made sacrifices, that those sacrifices had not just ended their lives, but also given their lives meaning, and said that this was the kind of sacrifice he was prepared to make for his crew.

I will always watch anything with Star Trek in the title, though!

Matt Bird said...

Great idea for a better scene, Jane.

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