Month: May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness (warning, contains spoilers!)

I saw Star Trek:  Into Darkness in 3D Imax opening night.  The 3D was excellent.   The action was impressive.  However, somehow I left disappointed.   I think it was the action.

I grew up as a Star Trek fan.  I enjoyed the original series.  It took awhile for The Next Generation to grow on me.   At one point, I could recognize an episode from either series from just a few lines.   The spinoff series of DS9 took me longer to get into.   The character development was excellent and eventually it won me over.  Voyager, I felt borrowed too much from the older series, but 7 of 9 was a welcome addition to the show.   Enterprise, I have to say, never grew on me...

So, what was it about Star Trek that drew me in?  Part of it was the aliens.   But, Star Trek has always had an optimistic view of the future and has raised interesting social and philosophical questions.   I think this is part of what left me feeling disappointed about the last Star Trek movie.   Ultimately, Star Trek is not about the action, but is about the story.

We open to a scene on a planet in the Nibiru system.   The crew is trying to save the planet without violating the Prime Directive.   Spock is willing to die to avoid violating the Prime Directive, but Kirk breaks it to save his friend.   This is in keeping with Kirk's character in that for him, his crew come before all else.    Some of the setup to this is a bit hokey in that there's no obvious reason why ship needs to be under water and to be exposed to the natives, but let's go with it.

Later, Spock tattles on Kirk for breaking the directive and Kirk is demoted--luckily only to first officer--he's called to Starfleet headquarters for a meeting and a terrorist attack occurs and much of the Starfleet leadership is decimated.   Kirk is then pressed to go after the enemy on a secret seek and destroy mission involving 72 (interesting choice of number) prototype photon torpedoes.   To accomplish this, he will have to launch a covert attack in Klingon territory.   This cries out, "Bad Idea!", but Kirk is enraged at the loss of life, including his mentor Pike and anger clouds his judgement.  Also, the version of Spock in this universe is not able to act as a counterbalance and urge him towards reason--at least initially.    Though Spock does urge Kirk to consider that it is not the Starfleet way to kill a man without trial.   This whole issue is a nice commentary on todays world of drone strikes, targeted killings, terrorism, etc.   Once underway, Kirk comes to his senses and decides to apprehend the terrorist (Khan) rather than kill him from afar as ordered.  So, we see that though there is a glitch in Starfleet, it still has the overall character that we appreciated in it's original incarnation of an organization more dedicated to exploration than to war.

I'll fast forward.   Towards the end, we find that the director has inverted the role of Kirk and Spock in the original Wrath of Khan and has Kirk as the one who has rushed into the high radiation zone (though this doesn't make sense as part of Spock's reasoning in the original one was that with his physiology he could survive long enough to do what was necessary--along with his view that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few) to save the ship--in keeping with his character and the way that events unfold in this version of the timeline.   We then are treated to a mirror of the scene in the original Wrath of Khan where Kirk and Spock exchange their farewells--but this version lacks the poignancy of the original.  Because, in the original, these men had been friends not just for part of the academy, but throughout a 5 year mission and had faced many troubles together.   That's part of the problem with the film--without the 5 year mission, the bonds that we're used to should not be least not to the same level as before...

The other problem I have with the film is during the fight scene between Spock and Khan towards the end, Spock really loses control and has to be calmed by Uhura.  This is a Spock without the control over his emotions that the original had--and there is not a reason given as to why.   Meanwhile, Kirk is saved by Khan's blood, which also seems to be a stretch--why didn't someone "bottle" that stuff for later use if it could be used to cure the dead?

At least by the end, the crew begins their mission of exploration and this version of Starfleet seems to have regained it's path towards exploration over war.   So, there are some things that are to like about this movie.   I think its commentary on how a free society can react to terrorism is well done and is in keeping with questions raised in the original series about race, religion, etc.   However, I think the original Wrath of Khan held more dramatic tension and stronger characters.   This version of Khan fell flat.    Also, the full implications of the altered timeline were not realized.   Finally, this version of Spock seems unbalanced.   We'll see how the next one goes....
















Posted by william in movies, 0 comments

Inferno (a novel)

I recently finished reading the latest Dan Brown book, Inferno:  A Novel.   As always, it was a page turner.

In college, I was an engineering physics major.  I had a slew of AP credits, so the only real humanities course I took was during my freshman year--a junior level science fiction course taught by Rabkin (which was truly an excellent course!   We read a different book every week.  We could only write a one page paper, so it was great for teaching us to tighten up our writing!).   In high school, I had another excellent course called, "Humanities" which tried to immerse us in the zeitgeist of the times--we would march through western history, exploring writings, art history, philosophy, and music of different periods.   It's a compelling way of learning.   I was also fortunate enough to take Latin in high school and to read the Aeneid, the Cena Trimalchionis, etc. in Latin--but otherwise, most of what I've encountered of the humanities has been in my copious free time.   Somehow, I have not read Dante's Inferno and after reading Dan Brown's book, it's definitely on my to read list!

I will skip over a discussion of the iconography and plot of the book except to say that it revolves around a problem raised by Malthus.  Writing in the 1800s, Malthus' essential observation was that while the growth of resources up to then was linear, the growth in population was geometric.   Given this, there would have to come a point where the population could no longer be supported by available resources.   He believed that famines, plague, etc. had managed to avoid the inevitable catastrophe from occurring by dropping the population, but that it was just a matter of time.   A character in Dan Brown's novel believes that Malthus was right and takes steps to try to deal with the problem.

Now, the question I wish to ask, is whether Malthus was indeed correct.   By simple evidence of the fact that we are here today without having observed his predictions coming true shows that at least his time scales were wrong.   Some have argued that through science, we've managed to beat Malthus--namely through the Green Revolution.  But as this blog points out, the Green Revolution was made possible through the expanding use of fossil fuels--which are limited.   So, perhaps we've merely been able to push off the inevitable.    However, it would appear that as societies become more developed and educated, they tend to produce less children and the population is expected to stabilize around 2050.   Given current resource levels, we may have centuries to think about better solutions--so, I don't see the same urgency that led to the drastic solutions of Brown's villain...

As a final note, one of the suggestions in the book was that population collapse, such as that which happened after the Black Plague in Europe led to the Renaissance--but what of Justinian's plague?  What of the Spanish Flu?  I find it hard to believe that pandemics have generally been beneficial for humanity.  Personally, I think that overpopulation is not the most pressing concern that we have to worry about today.   Climate change and our energy future is a different story...






Posted by william in books, 0 comments