Thursday, May 23, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special Information

If you consider casting news to be spoilers, then you might want to avert you eyes. At this point the cast is about all we know, but it does provide some interesting information.

What we do know leads us to a gathering of three doctors. Our current 11th Doctor, of course, his predecessor, the 10th Doctor (David Tennent is back), and a future Doctor. There is no indication whether John Hurt is playing and old 11th (doubtful), the 12th, or the 13th incarnation. Just that he is the Doctor. It is the first time they have looked into the future like that.

That, plus the casting news the Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman will be back for an 8th season, means that we won't be seeing a regeneration or anything happening to Clara.

We also know that Rose is back, as is Kate Stewart. IMDB gives a few more cast members in roles that either are yet known or that don't mean much.

There are no hints of the plot as of yet. While I am more than willing to divulge a great many spoilers, Doctor who is a show with a lot of mystery and maintaining that is a good thing. I won't be looking for or sharing the great secrets of the plot, only the initial setup.

One cool thing I found was the following video:

Most of the rest of what I have heard are rumors. Some say that John Hurt's Doctor isn't a future one, but a past one. The rumored antagonists include the Zygons and Omega. And Queen Elizabeth I may make an appearance. But I can't trace any of these back to a source of any repute. So I will wait and see. More will follow as I know more.

One of the more interesting setting tidbits is that we might be revisiting Coal Hill School and Totter's Lane. It remains to be seen if this is actually connected to the 50th Anniversary Special or if it is a false link from sets used for An Adventure in Space and Time. In any case, it looks like Moffet has a wild ride in store for us.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek At The Movies

With this new film now out and through its opening weekend, I thought it might be fun to see how it stacked up to its predecessors. The numbers tell an interesting story.

First, any comparison over such a span of time cannot be done by just comparing the total dollars. The new movies always win so it is an unfair comparison. Fortunately the best site for finding a movie's stats, Box Office Mojo, tracks based on both actual dollars and adjusting for inflation. I found some startling information.

Some of what I'm about to delve into breaks down these movies in extreme detail. Hollywood and the theater business have changed immensely in the past 40 years. 40 years ago we had lots of single screen theaters and a growing number of multi-screen theaters. These days, there are few of those single screen theaters left and the number of screens in the muli-screen theaters had jumped. I've only lived in Colorado for about 30 years, but in that time we have gone from the largest being a 4 screen theater to the largest being a 16 screen theater. My point is that an opening weekend today does not compare to one from 30 years ago. A movie today can open on over 3,000 screens and the same type of movie 30 years ago might have opened with less than half that number.

The surprising thing is which Star Trek films come out on top. Star Trek (2009) wins in just about every category. Just about. When you start looking at the number of theaters and look at the average per theater, Star Trek: The Motion Picture did the best. While it played on under 900 screens, each theater took in the modern equivalent of $44,000. Whereas with the 2009 film, each theater only earned the equivalent of $20,800. Just using the numeral of the movie, they stand in a per theater ranking of, 1, 4, 2, 11, 3, 8, 6, 12, 7, 5, 9, 10.

Just in case that might be a fluke, let's look at the total movie income. STID will be ranked where it currently falls, which is no indication of where it will finish up. I considered leaving it out, but it is still interesting where it falls after just the opening weekend. The movies rank as follows for total income; 11, 1, 4, 2, 3, 8, 7, 6, 9, 5, 12, 10. Yes, that is correct. STID, just in it's opening weekend beat Star Trek: Nemesis. And that is adjusted for inflation. The surprise, at least for most die-hard fans, is that of the older movies, Star Trek: The motion Picture raked in the most money (adjusted for inflation). Even not adjusted for inflation, it ranks fifth.

One of the things I'm attempting to point out is that box office income does not always equate to quality. Other factors are in play. At the time it came out, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first new Star Trek since the original series was cancelled. It rode the wave of the Star Wars driven science fiction mania. The story is weak and the film has too many special effects. It is a slow, cerebral piece, just the way Roddenberry wanted it. I think the 2009 film had a similar boost, being the first Star Trek since Enterprise was cancelled and done by J.J. Abrams. That leaves the two films that have taken their place at the top of the list of popular Star Trek movies, and the linking one. Films 4 and 2 are the fan favorites and 3 isn't far behind. With the number of people interested in a good action film, STID may rise in rank to knock some of them down (total income adjusted for inflation), but I doubt if it will beat its predecessor and it will have a hard time bumping Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In any case, it will be interesting to see where it finally falls.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Broken Plot - Why Star Trek Into Darkness Fails (Spoilers!)

The more I read the more reviewers critical of Star Trek Into Darkness, the more I come away with the image of a broken script, full of plot holes and inconsistencies. As a writer, I am keenly interested as it pertains to my profession. Using my knowledge as a writer, I am going to break down the flaws in the script. Major spoilers are bound to follow so read at your own risk.

When stepping into an established universe, the first rule is always to aquatint yourself with what has been established so your work can fit smoothly. Even if you want to take it a different direction, you still need a grounding in what you are doing. J.J. Abrams made it clear that he was not acquainted with Star Trek and from the two movies that he has directed, it is clear he had only picked up the minimum he needed to take on the project. And while the failure of the films are on his shoulders for not catching and correcting the mistakes, everything wrong with both of his Star Trek offerings can be traced back to the screenplay and the writers.

All I'll say about the first movie is it had a weak villain and an implausible plot. That is the past. I'm more concerned with the current movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote the screenplay (Damon joining the team that brought us the screenplay for Star Trek in 2009). Right there lies one issue. It was a team effort. It would be fun to learn the details of how they went about sharing the writing duties, but for now I will have to give each of them an equal share of the blame.

The movie starts out with a setpiece that sets up the beginning of the main story. The crew of the Enterprise is trying to save a planet and it seems that the existence of the ship's transporter has been forgotten. Spock is willing to sacrifice himself to stop a volcano and preserve the Prime Directive. Where do I begin. There is nothing about this situation that would be a violation of the Prime Directive. There is no reason for the ship to be under water and there is no reason they can't beam Spock out of the volcano. The writers have failed to craft a scenario that should lead where they want it to go so they force it to. Bad writing.

Then we have a man who is forced into an act of terrorism. Except that the promise is delivered before the act is committed negating any need to carry it through. This part makes no logical sense, but the writers force us through it anyway.

Then there is the reveal of Khan. It seems to be a "yeah, so?" moment when it was clearly supposed to be a big deal. Why doesn't this work? It is because Khan is a nobody. No one has heard of him and they have no idea what he is capable of. In fact it lessens the impact of the movie. John Harrison, rogue Starfleet agent has great potential. But now that he is a late 20th century superman he is just some other type of crazy. If they had pulled out another old Trek villain, Garth of Izar, it could have enhanced their story. Instead they go with someone who isn't even perceived as a danger until Old Spock pops up to tell them how bad Khan is. This adds nothing to the tension within the story, though it might for some viewers. The only part where Khan makes sense is that it provides reason for Khan to help Kirk deal with Admiral Marcus.

That leads us to another can of worms. Admiral Marcus, somehow he stumbled on the S.S. Botany Bay with Khan and his people and is holding the other hostage to Khan will work for him. He is also manages to build a huge dreadnaught that dwarfs the Enterprise in secret. This strains credibility, but the film hides some of these flaws by not giving you time to think amid all the action.

Lastly we have far too many homages to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. And that is all they are because they lack any of the impact they had the first time around. Kirk dies. So? Spock goes after Khan and screams his name. Okay, can we say unvulcan behavior? And something miraculous about Khan's blood brings Kirk back. Um, yeah, right. Khan is a genetic masterwork, not a creature of magic. Is he part vampire now? What sort of dreck is this. How can they think this makes a good plot?

Smoke and mirrors. The writers have chosen to give us a fast paced action film and aren't concerned with the details because they don't think you will notice. Well, sorry to say, people have noticed. (These links are filled with more spoilers than I have shared)
If you buy into the illusion of the action and special effects, you might miss the poor screenplay underneath. If you aren't wowed by the spectacle, the poor writing shows through plainly. In fact it is hard to hide. The sad thing is that it doesn't have to. A few alterations here and there and you would have essentially the same story, but packing more punch.

I've been writing for a long time, I even tried my hand at screenplays. While shorter than a novel, it really isn't a different process. What this screenplay lacks is writers knowledgeable about editing their own work. They missed so many things that would have been so easy to fix at that early stage. It shows that something about this writing team is seriously flawed. Not only do they lack the necessary knowledge of Star Trek, but they can't even create a dramatic sense of tension without relying on the action scenes (which are many). It is all smoke and mirrors to cover people who aren't good at their job. The addition of a new person to the team for this film obviously didn't fill this gaping maw in their ability to edit their own work.

Peel back everything on the surface, and this movie has one of the worst scripts to make it into production on a Star Trek movie. Ultimately it is the script that makes this movie fail. Add to that an unfortunate casting choice and those who know what a good story is find this movie to be a failure.

Updated 5/19/13 with new link. And again 5/23/13, 5/24/13, & 5/28/13.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness - More Spoilers

Since I am boycotting the movie, based mostly on the horrible whitewash casting of Cumberbatch, and have no plans to see it, ever, finding this detailed breakdown of the major plot holes, courtesy of actor/producer James Cawley, gives me a detailed report from someone I trust as to just how bad this movie is.

It really makes me call into question J.J. Abrams ability as a director. On one hand, he is technically good at his job. He can turn a script into moving images that capture the imagination. But a major part of a director's job is to make sure the final product turns out good. In that Abrams has failed. The failure leads back to either poor writing or poor execution on his part. I'll be generous and blame the writers. Bad writing was responsible for the horror that is Star Trek: Generations, so there is precedent for that. A good director would catch those things and question them. There are far too many plot holes in this movie and it is quite apparent that a good script was sacrificed to bring us more action. Action is great. But there are ways to write action and create a cohesive story without plot holes that are so easy to point out.

The movie opens with a sequence that makes no sense. Why is the Enterprise put underwater and why does it need to fly to Spock's rescue. Obviously the writers and director haven't watched much Star Trek and have forgotten what the Transporter is for. This sequence creates a nonsensical violation of the Prime Directive that is just stupid when compared to the real violations that Shatner's Kirk perpetrated and got away with.

And why does Pike have such blind faith in Kirk? It's great, but where did it come from and what is with the constant change of command. That kind of situation should lead to a breakdown in crew morale.

Cawley notes, but moves past the miscasting of Cumberbatch as Khan and focuses on the writing issues with his character. The original Khan is perhaps the greatest of Trek's villains. In this film, he isn't the primary villain and he even helps the Enterprise crew. A truly great character has been dumbed down and marginalized. No one is denying he made the most of this role, but the bad writing couldn't save it. Instead of a reprise of the greatest Trek villain, we have just a genetic superman. And the Mercy of Kirk and crew in their original encounters is absent.

And it just gets worse from there. The other guest stars are similarly written doing nonsensical things, from the bomber to the admiral to the Klingons. And the women's roles are handled badly. It's just one thing after another to grate on the nerve of a long time Trekkie. To the casual viewer who just wants an action romp, this may well be a great film. But for the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise, it is an embarrassment. Cawley does comment that it is better than the 2009 film, but for me, the miscasting of Cumberbatch makes it worse. He is a good actor and really deserved a part written for him, or at least one he would have had less difficulty in making his own. Ricardo Montalban was Khan. He inhabited the role, especially when he reprised it in Star Trek II, with a ferocity that is hard to match. Best of all, he was a well written villain in two well written scripts.

The failings of Star Trek Into Darkness all rest on the shoulders of the director. Bad writing and bad casting combine to make this the worst Star Trek movie. Please take the time to read Cawley's full report and don't see the movie. Trek can and has done so much better. Shatner did better with Star Trek V. I hate to admit that I would rather rewatch Star Trek: Generations than this latest installment of a half assed reboot.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Spoilers

There are times when you just need to know things about a movie before you see it. My enjoyment or even desire to see a franchise film is often based on what they do with the story. I'm a long time Star Wars and Star Trek fan and so certain key aspects of the new Star Trek film have seriously pissed me off, to the point of where I feel it is my responsibility to share.

Having started out with Star Wars before migrating to Star Trek (the movies hooked me before I actually got to enjoy the entire original series, then Deep Space Nine and Voyager lost me) and then back to Star Wars, I've experienced the movies as they came out and have a pretty reasonable view of how good or bad they are. Prior to this reboot, Star Trek Generations was the only one I found unacceptable. I went into this reboot and this sequel with an open mind. The last movie lacked a villain of any character and the story left a lot to be desired, though they did a good job of capturing the original characters, mostly thanks to good casting.

Which brings me to Star Trek Into Darkness. There has been this buildup over who Benedict Cumberbatch's character is. Then they release the name and the hype made no sense. That is until a few people dropped a hint yesterday and then I checked out IMDB and looked up the spoilers for the film, which I had confirmed by someone in Europe has seen it. Cumberbatch is actually Khan Noonian Singh. Yes, that is right. They hired a white English actor to play an Indian. This is at odds for their excellent recasting of the other roles, including Carol Marcus.

So, we have the racist recasting of an Indian with a white guy that isn't revealed until halfway through the movie. From there the movie devolves into lots of action scenes that mimic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and parts of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. The did mix it up a bit and reversed Kirk and Spock. Kirk dies and is resurrected while Spock battles their foe and yells, "Khaaaan!" In the end McCoy is able to bring Kirk back to life because of something in Khan's blood. (For more detailed spoilers go here.)

When I found this out last night, I was still willing to give it a shot, but the more I've thought about it the more I've decided I am not going to watch this movie at all. The way my friend in Europe explained it is that if you are a true Star Trek fan, the second half of the movie is terrible. If you aren't, it's a good action flick. It just isn't Star Trek.

I would recommend anyone who likes Star Trek avoid this movie. Wait for it on Netflix, rental, on demand, or something like that where you don't have to pay more than a pittance. This movie may be visually stunning, but J.J. Abrams has again delivered a dud that fails to have a story that makes any sort of sense. Plus the casting of Cumberbatch as Khan is offensive. That really was the tipping point. Ricardo Montalban was at least an ethnicity that could pass for Indian (I know several people from the sub-continent who have been mistaken for Mexican). Cumberbactch isn't even close and they didn't even try.