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.

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