Friday, November 22, 2013

Nitpickery: the Voyage Home

Hey, y'all.  So I got around to watching Star Trek: the Voyage Home again, and even though I have the VHS, I borrowed the DVD to watch.  I was sort of hoping that it would have some sort of difference between it and the VHS, but alas, no scene change.  That's probably for the best, as the slight change made in Star Trek VI was rather jarring.

In any case, the Voyage Home is a continuation of the plot from the previous movie, the Search for Spock.  At the end of that movie, the main crew of the Enterprise was on the planet Vulcan, having just reunited Spock's body with his soul.  They intend to go straight back to Earth so that the crew can turn themselves in for having stolen the Enterprise in the previous film.  Only this time a giant space probe has gotten there ahead of them, and is draining all starships, space stations, and indeed the enter planet's power.  Now storms are brewing on Earth, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.  That is, until Kirk and company, flying their stolen Klingon vessel, figure out that they have to go snatch up some extinct whales from 20th century Earth and bring them back to the future, so that they can tell the probe to go away.

Mishaps and mayhem are the name of the game in this most happy of Star Trek movies, where everyone is just out to have a good time.  Apparently so were the viewers, as this is the Trek film that has made the most money.  With the exception of course of JJ Abram's Star Trek, but since that's not actually Trek it doesn't matter.

Let's get right to it, shall we?

----- Top Ten Things I'll Say about The Voyage Home -----

10.  It's hard to criticize this movie.

That's the truth for a couple of reasons.  Now, I'm not saying it's beyond criticism.  If I admitted that then I'd have to give up nitpickery.  No, it's just that this film is one that's been so ingrained in my memory over time that, well, even though it's a good movie, I've got all the images and such just about memorized.  It is one of the two Treks I saw the most as a kid.  There's just nothing new for me there anymore.

Granted, that's entirely subjective, but there's also an objective reason.  This is such a fun, happy film, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.  Movies that are there just for fun aren't all that nitpickable.  It's like trying to critique a movie like White Chicks as seriously as one might The King's Speech or Citizen Kane.  When watching a fun movie, getting bogged down in the details only matters if the movie is crap.  If the movie is at least reasonably good, then plot holes and inconsistencies matter very little.

Does that mean I'm going to fail to point them out?  Ha, of course not.

9. Saavik is now useless.

I still don't see why people give Robin Curtis all the crap that they do.  Anyway, in this movie the character becomes entirely irrelevant.  She is left behind on Vulcan, and after a brief scene near the beginning where she serves to complete the transition between the previous movie and this (was it really necessary for her to bring up David's death?), she's gone for the rest of the film.

It was of course planned that she was pregnant with Spock's child because of the pon farr on Genesis, but this was cut out of the movie because it didn't really match with the tone.  So now Saavik, a Starfleet officer, is left behind because....because why?  She works in Starfleet.  Heck, even if they did go with the pregnancy thing, why does she want to stay on Vulcan?  Maybe she needs to wrap up some ends in the fleet before she goes on maternity leave.  Y'know, at least make a report to whoever's in charge as a witness to Kirk's activities.  Whatever, Saavik.  You're not cool enough to go back to Earth and hang out with the rest of the cast, so why don't you and Spock's mom hang out and get more acquainted?  It's not like you matter anymore.

Saavik was intended to replace Spock when he died in Star Trek II, but of course the fans were having none of that.  Not the Saavik replacement part, but the loss of Spock.  So now what's Saavik to do?  She had to be in the film the Search for Spock (I guess) to wrap up what happened with the whole Genesis thing, but now what's she to do?  The character has no longer any purpose, and no one ever bothered to think up something to make her relevant again.

Which is really sad.  After all, Saavik went from a young Vulcan with a promising career to someone stranded on her homeworld for no particular reason.  Or she's pregnant, if you want to go that direction.  What's weird about this is that Robin Curtis' performance was more mature, making it look as though Saavik aged several years when really her career is being cut off at its very beginning. After all, not too long ago in the Trek timeline (not much time passed between this and the past two movies) she'd just taken the Kobayashi Maru.

8.  Al Gore's space probe causes a lot of plot holes.

Most of these are closely related, so I might as well say them all under one point.  So there's a big stone cylinder flying through space, and it makes ships power down every time it comes near.  It's transmitting these sounds that nobody understands.  This causes all kinds of plot holes.

First of all, what's the deal with the shuttles in the space station?  When the probe goes by, their power goes out, and they slow down.  This is space, and in space there is no friction, so the loss of power would not make the shuttles slow down.  In fact, it would have no affect whatsoever on the shuttle's speed.  What would have an effect is the shuttle speeding into the side of the station because it has no power to fire breaking thrusters.

Hey wait, if it takes so little power to move in space, then why did they leave their engines on so long?  Bah, whatever.  I haven't finished reading the book on space travel I borrowed from my dad, so whatever.  Maybe I'll figure it out.

Also, when the probe comes by Earth and the Federation sends out a message for spaceships not to approach Earth, it's basically advertising the planet's weakness.  You'd think the Klingons would be all over that.  Y'know, figure out how to power a ship without it losing power to the probe, which is apparently possible as one stranded ship was attempting to use solar sails.

Those aren't too serious as plot holes, however.  What is a little more harmful to the plot is when suddenly Kirk and Spock get the idea to try and see what the probe's transmission would sound like to someone under water.  Spock goes, "It would be arrogant to assume the message is for humans", which is in of itself an arrogant statement.  However, from this Kirk gleans the idea to tell Uhura to modify the sound for depth, water, and all that kind of stuff.

So wait, how does he go from Spock being a pretentious hippie to assuming that the probe wants to talk to a water creature?  How do we know it even has anything to say about a creature native to Earth?  Since it's never been around our planet before, maybe it wanted to talk to a visiting alien staying on the planet.  Or maybe the probe was off-course and was never meant to come to our world.  Or what if the sound didn't need to be modified, but carried high-pitched frequencies that would make sense to any number of animals? Oh sure, the President said it was directed toward oceans.  Because politicians know so much about science.

But whatever.  Fine.  Spock makes an obscure insult, and Uhura can arrange the sound on a foreign warship with controls in a foreign language.  How convenient.  But how exactly does a common Klingon vessel have information not only on an Earth animal that has been extinct for over a century, but also have recordings of the sound it makes?

Y'know, this contradicts Star Trek VI in the sense that if Uhura could manipulate the Klingon controls, she should surely be able to handle a Klingon outpost.  Also, if it's this easy for the Federation to get a hold of Klingon birds of prey, you'd think that they would understand cloaking devices by the Next Generation time period.  Just saying.

Well, whatever.  This movie isn't about science or logic, it's about fun.  So not only are all these things not problems, but it's also super easy to travel through time, with no future consequences.  We need to hurry and get to all the bit where Spock acts awkwardly in front of twentieth century people.

7.  None of the crew cares about alerting the twentieth century people about the fact that they are future people from space.

The past few times I've watched this movie, I've made a list for all the indications that the crew left behind or awkward things they did that indicate to the 1986 people that they aren't just your run of the mill weirdos.  I have some rules for this list.  I don't write down things that are weird in general, but things that point to who the crew really are.  For example, Spock having a headband around his head doesn't count, as this doesn't refer to him being a Vulcan but could simply reflect someone with bad fashion taste, or is part of a cult, or just got out of a workout.

Also, things that take a long time, like Kirk's conversation with Gillian in the pizza place, only count as one. No counting things that are told to Gillian, either, because since she went back to the future with them.  Her disappearance counts as one though.

Alright, so with all that in mind, I did the list on this watch again.  How high did it get?  Thirty-one.  That's right.  Those are all obvious violations of the temporal prime directive.  I might have missed a few, because the time I watched it before that (some years ago), I got up to forty two.  Maybe my rules weren't defined as well then.

At only one point in the film does anyone express concern over preserving the timeline.  That one almost doesn't count, as it's just McCoy mentioning that maybe they shouldn't give future technology to a guy from the past just to get some transparent aluminum.  They've already shown the technology's details to the glass producer, so the temporal prime directive is done with.  It's not as though the glass producer is going to let them out of his factory without begging them to share.

Kirk's no better.  He is very open with Gillian the cetacean biologist, telling her whatever she wants to know so that he can get information.  Spock doesn't bother getting on the side of the aquarium people can't see when he mind-melds with the whale.  Uhura and Chekov stand out in the middle of the street and ask any passerby about nuclear vessels.  When interrogated, Chekov gives his questioners very straightforward, honest answers.  Dr. McCoy performs surgery right in front of twentieth century doctors.  The only one who handles being back in time with any grace at all is Sulu, who very carefully chooses his words as he speaks to a helicopter pilot, and doesn't sound at all forced.  That scene is probably the best acted one in the movie.

Really, Captain Kirk, you have Sulu set the ship down right in the middle of a public park?  In front of a couple guys, too?  What happened to changing the future unintentionally?  Doesn't a one of them remember City on the Edge of Forever?

Oh well.  This is the highest grossing Star Trek film of all time (shut up, JJ), and the people have thus spoken on its behalf.

6.  This is the most fun preachy movie I've ever seen.

I managed to listen to a few minutes of the commentary on the DVD for this film, and on it, Leonard Nimoy mentions that it wasn't planned to be a movie about whales.  Apparently the writers had already decided to just make a movie where they go back into the past and have a fun time, and not be as dark as the two previous films were.  Whales and their extinction came from Nimoy's desire to have a plausible reason for the Enterprise crew to go back to the past.

But it all ended up making for a preachy, environmentalist movie.  Which was a lot of fun.  Y'know, if most hippies were half this good at propaganda, more people would listen to them.  Granted, there's no giant probe that will destroy us all if whales go extinct....but wait, if there's a probe that cares if whales are alive, why doesn't it care that all these other living creatures on Earth are going to die because of its transmissions? Does it only like whales?  Does it recognise anything else as living?

Stop it, nerdy.  We're done with that part.

It's hard not to like a movie where punks get shut down, a woman grows a new kidney, an average woman gets to be a part of a bigger adventure, and there's jokes everywhere.  Seriously, could this movie be any more eighties?  Not without more neons and stereos, it can't.

5. This is the first time Kirk has hit on a woman without it being forced, implausible, or slutty.

Kirk is not a good captain when a woman is around.  They make him do stupid things and forget his duty, and that's even when they don't have love potion in their tears.  He's even almost bungled his quest to retrieve a plant to cure a plague all because he "fell in love" with a woman in less than four hours.  You can like Kirk as a captain, but you can't call him the best at his job.  That's still Picard.

None of the "romances" on the original television series made that much sense.  Some of the women have incompatible personalities and some greater duties.  And yet a woman is almost never allowed on the show as anything above an extra unless she has a crush on him (exceptions are made for women who have crushes on Spock or McCoy).  It's always so weird to me that women found him attractive, too.  I just don't see it. Then again, I also find Captain Jack from Doctor Who unattractive, so maybe that's just a personal problem.

Yet in this movie, everything that happens is natural.  He has a pleasant conversation with a whale biologist, she hangs out with him for reasons more than finding him attractive, they do fun things like break into a hospital together, and Gillian comes to the future not because of him, but because of her whales.  Sure, at the end they hint that she might like him, but given that we never see her again, I'm not worried about it.  And even if they did turn it more into a romance, either at the end of this movie or in the next one (assuming they replaced Star Trek V with something else), the natural development of the friendship makes this potential future not out of place.  Gillian has a life and a career of her own, and so she's not some desperate girl with nothing better to do than mess around with a starship captain.

Of course, to be fair, her life wasn't all peaches and roses.

4. Gillian leads a desperate and lonely life.

I know this sort of contradicts the previous point, but think about it a minute.  So you have here a woman who is obsessed with humpbacked whales, and she is emotionally affected at the slightest things that happen to them.  Gillian slaps a man because she couldn't "say goodbye" to her whales when they were moved to the ocean.  She's even willing to abandon everything in her life to go to the future and protect those whales.

What does this say about her?  It says that the best part of her life was those whales, and nothing more.  She apparently has no husband at home, no family to think of, and no career potential (?) to make her consider staying home.  While I'll buy that her career is definitely enhanced by going to the future and being the only whale biologist of the 23rd century, the fact that she made the decision to go so quickly probably means that she lived alone in a small apartment, where she spent her weekends snacking on Chinese takeout while watching gameshows on the tube.  That is, when she wasn't nose-deep in a whale book.

She got assigned to a ship at the end, so hopefully she'll be able to make some friends.  Or maybe she'll just spend all day on the ship's computer, reading about how whales went extinct while her ship chases after the probe that caused all these problems in the first place.  Good luck, Gillian!

3. So does this mean they're going to treat whales better?

Yeah, I know they'll treat the whales better in the sense that they won't be allowed to go extinct again, but think about it.  These massive sea beasts can talk to alien probes!  Surely that's a discovery of scientific importance!  Whales can talk to aliens!  That must be a great way to share information.  Now all they have to do to find out what the deal is with the probe is to have a Vulcan mind meld with one of the whales again, and then we'll be able to set up communication with the probe's creator.  Problem solved!

Or we could just, y'know, ignore that it ever happened and go join Spock's brother on a quest for God.  Whatevs.

2.  There are three unnecessary dangers that the crew takes in this film.

The first is sort of mild: they should have gone after wild whales rather than George and Gracie, as trying to get whales from an aquarium means attracting extra attention.  Sure, they had to find a way to get transparent aluminum (or, y'know, just use glass), and they had to re-crystalize the dylithium, but by cutting out the middle man and going right for whales in the wild, they could have saved a lot of time and trouble.  It's not as though they needed the radio frequencies for George and Gracie either.  If Uhura could detect whale song from space, there you go.  Grab whales, get out.

That's not so bad, though.  After all, some unnecessary risk is appropriate in making a fun movie, and there's no real harm done in going for the aquarium ones, by some strange luck.  However, there is plenty of harm done when Kirk orders the ship to go into warp speed a mere fifty feet or so from the Earth's surface.  Excuse me, those guys might be illegal (or possibly legal, depending where they are) whale hunters, but they're still people.  And who knows what kind of tidal wave or pollution a warp drive could cause?  Sheesh Kirk.  Think before you act.

Thirdly, once they make it back to the future and the whales are in the oceans talking to the probe, Kirk throws his crew into the ocean, just to be silly.  This is a cute little moment, and they're obviously having fun. Perhaps I should cut Kirk some slack.  After all, he probably doesn't know that oceanic white tips are frequently the first species of shark present at a shipwreck, and that they are very aggressive, opportunistic hunters.  After all, they live in the middle of the ocean, and seven fresh bodies would make a nice meal. Maybe Gillian should have mentioned that to him, being a marine biologist and all.

1. I'm gonna go watch the extras now.

Honestly, I have nothing more to gain from watching this movie again.  Yes, the Voyage Home was a fun ride, but it's not the sort of thing you can watch over and over again.  It just doesn't have that depth to it that most Trek stuff tends to, and even comedy movies can manage a depth if they try.  For example, O Brother Where art Thou is a film my parents have watched so many times they can recite it.  That movie's depth comes from the rich southern culture, where the audience can make clear assumptions about how these southerners behave when the camera isn't pointed at them.  In the Voyage Home, everyone's behaving in such a casual, never-think-ahead attitude that you have to wonder what their deal is.

Sure, this doesn't hurt the movie very much, but all the same, I think it's going to be a decade or so until I see this movie again. I'll wait until nostalgia creeps up, or until I hang out with some people who really want to watch it.  I've had enough.  I was surprised how little I enjoyed seeing it again.  Maybe I have become a lot more cynical than before.  Crap, maybe I need to watch Mortal Kombat again and make sure it's still my favorite movie.

That leaves me with the extras.  I've liked extras on movies, as sometimes a backstory on why a movie exists is more interesting than the movie itself (see: Lord of the Rings).  Maybe there's a fun time to be had in the details of this movie.  I'll get back to you on that.

Best actor:  Hmm....I don't know.  The main cast was pretty funny, but none of them really stood out.  I'll go with Catherine Hicks.  She does a really convincing job as a marine biologist, even if she comes across as a bit of a high school biology teacher.  Her performance across from Shatner's lends a lot of believability to the potential for either a relationship, or just a plain friendship.  Whichever way the writers wanted to go with it.

This movie is for:
- Trekkers
- Casual moviegoers
- Hippies
- Younger viewers
- Those who like nitpickery
- People stuck in the eighties or nineties

This movie is not for:
- Anyone looking for depth
- Those overly sensitive to hippie propaganda
- Stuck up mofos, I guess.  Seriously, this movie is fun, and it's not worthy of hate.  I understand if you don't like Trek, but this movie doesn't represent all the characteristics of Star Trek, and obviously from its earnings it connects well with general audiences.  Give it a chance.

If you're bored, you can take a look at my list of evidences that the Enterprise left behind on their mission.  If I've left anything off the list, feel free to comment about it.

Indications ---

- Signs from satellites as the ship arrives
- landing in front of the garbage trucks
- leaving an imprint in the grass
- leaving an invisible barrier for anyone with a stray dog to run into
- light shining from the door of the ship as they exit.
- Spock talks weird.
- "twentieth century equivalent"
- "nuclear wessels"
- Vulcan nerve pinch
- Diving in the whale tank
- Talking on comm devices before the age of cell phones.
- Spock disappearing in the middle of a public park
- Weirdo visit to a glass company
- Transparent aluminum
- talking weird in the restaurant
- sneaking around a nuclear sub
- access to future tech
- Chekov is weird to interrogators
- beaming out at night when the light would be obvious.
- United Federation of planets on Chekov's card
- Gillian disappears from the planet
- "Admiral Kirk!"
- Suddenly disappearing glass with a helicopter attracting attention.
- The crew makes for weirdo doctors
- Dialysis healing
- Selling glasses without understanding money
- Using future technology in front of modern people
- Lifting off in front of joggers.
- Interacting with whaling ship
- Taking off while not cloaked
- Disappearing whales on their radio frequency

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