In May of 2013 I boldly remarked that I would not watch the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise, comparing J.J. Abrams’ re-write of the original series with New Coke. Last night I broke with the statement and rented Into Darkness for 400円 to see whether there was anything worth looking forward to with the inevitable third, fourth, fifth, and sixth movies that are due to come out under the banner of an alternate universe. Long story short: Star Trek is now a Hollywood title and should come with the same expectations one would expect from anything made in Hollywood.
People all over the Internet have professed their love or hate for the New Trek and, rather than add to the noise, I thought I’d look at a different angle of this movie. As with any action flick from America’s movie machine, a lot of people lose their lives in this story. The first people to lose their lives are members of Section 31 in London, and the last people to lose their lives are civilians on the ground in San Francisco. Along the way we see Starfleet officers get blown into space, Klingon warriors decimated by weapons better suited to distance fighting than a Bat’leth1. The question I have is how necessary it was for approximately 100,000 people to lose their lives in the 48-hours that transpire between Khan’s first act in London to the over-the-top destruction of Starfleet Headquarters when a heavily damaged Dreadnaught-class vessel falls out of the sky to wipe out the downtown core of San Francisco.
The London and Subsequent Starfleet HQ Attacks
Khan, working for Admiral Marcus, develops a grudge for the warmongering dolt and decides to declare war on Starfleet by … helping Marcus instigate a war with the Klingons?
Blowing up the Section 31 offices in London I can understand. The people who lost their lives were the unfortunate casualties of the personal war between Khan and Marcus. Several hours later, at an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ, Khan makes an appearance in an armed vehicle and unloads several thousand rounds of ammunition into the Nomura Room killing a number of senior officers, including Captain Christopher Pike. This is also understandable, if a little excessive for a man who is angry at Marcus more than Starfleet itself.
After Khan’s ship is disabled, he activates a portable transwarp beaming device2 and goes to Ketha Province on Qo’nos, a region of the Klingon home world that is said to be uninhabited.
Why? For a man who can literally go anywhere in the known galaxy in the blink of an eye, why travel to a world that is already hostile to humans where his presence would only exacerbate tensions between Earth and Qo’nos? Why help Admiral Marcus advance his trigger-happy scheme to instigate a war between these two worlds? Why not go to Risa and relax? How about New Vulcan where he can be surrounded by intellectually evolved people? Heck, the Romulan home world would have been better than Qo’nos.
But I digress.
The Decimation of the Klingons
When the Enterprise is dispatched to Qo’nos with orders to kill Khan, Kirk has a change of heart and decides to follow the principles we all strive to uphold. Rather than murder Khan from afar with 72 torpedoes and instigate a battle that would leave both the Human and Klingon militaries weakened for decades, he opts to arrest the treasonous fugitive and return him to Earth to stand trial for his crimes. The Enterprise loses warp capability 20-minutes from their destination, but they’re able to confirm that their prey is in the location they expected him to be in. Their scanners are that good. That said, they couldn’t identify a pack of sentinels that were patrolling the area, perhaps trying to locate the single human life form on the planet. The Klingons at this point do not have cloaking technology, so how did those ships magically shield themselves from detection?
Plot hole aside, when the valiant crew of the Enterprise try to communicate with the Klingons and fail to impress them, a heavily-armed Khan steps in to start laying waste to the warriors who have spent every day of their lives since before adolescence training for battle. Dozens of people were killed, ships were destroyed, flames of hatred stoked. For what purpose?
The Dreadnaught Opens Fire on the Enterprise
Soon after Khan is in custody aboard the Enterprise the U.S.S. Vengeance, a Dreadnaught Class star ship, makes an appearance. Chekov reports that the Enterprise is barely warp-capable again, and Kirk runs from the warship back to Earth. A few short minutes later, the bigger ship catches up and opens fire on the defenceless Enterprise, cutting holes into it where people are then seen being lost to the depths of space as they’re blown from the ship along with a good amount of atmosphere.
Again … why? Why not do something far more logical … like hack the Enterprise the same way we saw in The Wrath of Khan back in 1982? Take over the ship, drop it out of warp, and deal with the problem without resorting to destroying the flagship of the fleet which, one would think, would raise an awful lot of eyebrows and lead to a ridiculous number of formal inquiries.
Khan Is Osama Bin Laden
This is an action movie, of course. There has to be action. There has to be explosions. There has to be sex. If these things do not exist, then movie-goers who fork over ridiculous sums of cash for the luxury of sitting in a room full of strangers with awful smelling “food” would cry foul and demand their money back. So while the excessive damage inflicted upon the Enterprise and the horrible number of casualties is what a lot of people attend an action-science-fiction film for, the movie just couldn’t let other people live to tell the tale. Khan had to take the damaged U.S.S. Vengeance and smash it into San Francisco.
Awe-inspiring 100-storey buildings are seen snapped like twigs at the base when the massive starship comes down from the sky at a steep angle and hits the bay. People, like deer caught in the headlights of a fast-moving SUV, stand motionless as this unbelievable spectacle unfolds before them. Then the space vessel hits the city worse than the planes hit the World Trade Center buildings on September 11th, 2001.
There are no numbers reported but, judging from the position of the sun in the sky, the Dreadnaught-class vessel rained down on the city mid-afternoon. This means that those buildings would have been fully staffed. 100-storey buildings can easily hold more than 25,000 people. Several of these tall structures were destroyed, along with a slew of smaller buildings. Let’s not forget the underground infrastructure that would have been in place, as something as big as a starship would do just as much damage to infrastructure underground as it would to things above ground.
Earlier I estimated the total loss of life to be approximately 100,000 people. Thinking about it in greater detail, this number was probably two or three times larger.
For what? What possible purpose could this level of destruction possibly serve? To make people wonder why Earth’s great cities are defenceless against things falling from the sky? To make people appreciate the fact we don’t have spaceships falling on our heads? To make people trivialise mass murder because it’s just a movie guy. Relax!
How Much Is Your Life Worth?
Movies are supposed to be one of the many events where an audience is expected to leave their brains at the door and just sit back for some entertainment. The big, Hollywood blockbusters that come out every summer certainly require that an audience know absolutely nothing about anything and have no moral compass before, during, or after the movie in order to fervently enjoy them. Star Trek movies, however, are supposed to be different. A Star Trek movie needn’t be cerebral or unnecessarily complex. Indeed, most of them are not, but before Abrams bastardised Trek the most death we would see in a movie was less than a dozen people. Undiscovered Country had the highest number of casualties when Praxis, a moon orbiting Qo’nos, exploded. But that was in the thousands. Abrams has killed off the entire Vulcan home world, wiped out San Francisco, and destroyed the ultimate vision that Star Trek was all about.
Before Abrams, death was used as a plot device to advance the story or evoke an emotion. Abrams, and the people who really enjoy the newer Trek, don’t care about stories or emotions. The lives of these nameless, faceless people mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. We don’t know them personally, so who cares? Right?
Sadly, we are also a nameless, faceless person to someone living just a few hundred meters from our house. Are our lives also worth nothing more than a “Oh, shit!” remark?
But it’s entertainment, right? We’re not supposed to think about these things. We’re not supposed to ask questions. We’re not supposed to walk out of the movie tallying up the emotional, psychological, physical, and economic costs associated with the spectacle that we just witnessed on the big screen for $20. No … we’re supposed to walk out of the movie saying “Did you see that CG? You could see the hairs on Ensign Willis’ head freeze as he was sucked into space! That was awesome!”.
How is this different from the Roman spectators who would watch with glee as poor humans who could not pay their taxes were fed to the lions at colosseums? How is this different from Bin Laden laughing at the terrified and hurt citizens of America as people around the world watched in horror as the burning twin towers collapsed, burying thousands of people who would never again enjoy a warm meal with their loved ones?
Mass destruction, death, and wanton violence is not entertainment. It’s the epitome of everything we should reject as we seek to better ourselves as a society, and as a species.