Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Star Trek: Into Darkness Should Have Started - By Thomas Tan

     Okay, so I watched Star Trek 2 yesterday, and I was trying to put my finger on why the opening scenes didn't really click for me. They seemed altogether unpolished, and didn't really set the tone/emotional attachment to the characters for the rest of the film. So I spent a lot of last night and this morning thinking about it, and here's how I would have done it.


     First of all, lose the whole indigenous volcano people thing. It’s weird and not at all the dark tone of the rest of the film, and therefore doesn’t really push the audience in that direction. If they wanted to set up the whole “dealing with an uncivilized threat in a civilized world” angle, they could have had the Enterprise deal directly with some kind of Klingon skirmish. It would firstly establish the Klingons as an actual threat, but it could also establish the forced dichotomy of responses. Kirk would want to fight or respond with some kind of show of force, Spock would dictate the Federation laws or whatever that prohibit said actions, Uhura would explain how Klingon culture would require said show of force (causing friction between her and Spock), and John Cho would nervously explain the situation as it grows steadily worse. If you wanted to keep the “I would do anything for my crew” angle, it could even be a hostage situation, instead of the whole Spock needing to sacrifice himself angle. Heck, I think it would even be better if it was a lower ranked crew member instead of Spock in danger, because then it would drive the point home that Kirk wouldn’t leave ANY members of his crew to die, something Spock might have done in the interests of keeping to regulations/needs of the many. This could be the thing that even triggers the conflict between him and Uhura, leading to more of a “Would you have left me to die too?” argument from Uhura, and putting Spock in a much more precarious position.

NOTE: Not as precarious as this position

     Honestly, though, I would have ditched that kind of opening number entirely. I think sequels these days don’t give audiences enough credit, and somehow feel compelled to start everything pretty much where the last film left off. I would say, start this off like Ghostbusters 2, where everyone is kind of in a stable, but unhappy, situation, and the audience is left wondering “Hey, what happened? Why is Pike captain? Why is Kirk following him around? Why’s Spock with that other guy?” Wondering means the audience can get invested, and an invested audience can be played with. Start the film after Kirk’s demotion, with him as Pike’s first officer. Everyone is on their way to this big meeting after the attack on the archives (another scene which should have been left out; we didn’t really need to establish Khan’s blood could save people twice, and we didn’t really need to establish him manipulating some guy to blow it up). Kirk could be then talking to Pike about how it doesn’t make sense for someone to attack a public archive, and even mention how ridiculous it is for everyone to meet in one place like this. Enter Spock, tailing that other captain as his first officer, who explains that it is regulations for senior captains/officers to assemble after any kind of terrorist attack or whatever, explaining the logic of having everyone discuss intel and how to proceed. Kirk can make a few remarks about how he has a bad feeling about things, especially getting everyone together in a relatively unsecured location. This gives us time to establish and bond with all four of these characters during their conversation: Kirk will want to fight fire with fire and hunt the perp down, Spock will want to follow the rules, Pike will find something funny about the situation like Kirk, but will follow the rules anyway, and the last captain could even be a sort of more developed Spock character (making sense for him to have the Vulcan as a first officer).

     So, now that we have our two leads and their mentors established, we can arrive at the meeting. Admiral Marcus explains the situation and shares the secret: it was NOT an archive after all, but a secret facility! We need to find this traitor-operative before it’s too late! This obviously causes a rift in all the people present, maybe even two separate ideological rifts. On one side you have the people who are appalled at some kind of top secret government hideout, and on the other side you have people who understand its necessity. Then on one hand you have the people who want to hunt down this “John Harrington” with the full might of the Federation, and others who explain that he needs to be brought in to stand trial and we need to follow the rules, etc. During this big argument number, Kirk could be studying that same picture, trying to talk to Pike about his gut feelings. Pike will shush him as usual, maybe even with that same glib remark when Marcus asks what they’re talking about (“He’s just adjusting to his new roles as First Officer, sir.”). When Marcus presses, Kirk could explain something to the effect that Harrington is obviously dangerous, and that maybe bending a few rules to catch him more effectively would be acceptable. Spock would interject, explaining how we have those rules in place for a reason, and we should absolutely not bend any of them to catch this guy, terrorist or not. This earns Spock an admonition from his own captain, but it further reinforces how he still prioritizes arguing with Kirk more than serving his role on a new ship. Marcus then explains that he agrees with Kirk, maybe complimenting him boldly for his suggestion. Have a quick funny exchange between Marcus and Pike, mirroring the relationship between Pike and Kirk, and now we have three generations of tough white dude captains established. We should like Marcus almost immediately at this moment, someone who understands our hero Kirk, and someone who agrees with his core philosophy. Likewise, we shouldn't like Khan from the beginning, which I think was a major mistake of the film as it was shot.

I'm going to stare at you until you LIKE me. -Ed

     We can still have a moment after this (maybe Kirk feels bolder now that Marcus likes him), where Kirk says how he doesn’t feel it necessary for everyone to gather in one place like this, or at least maybe not somewhere so obvious. Maybe some kind of easy metaphor about putting all the eggs in one basket or something to that effect, just something to explain his uneasiness at that situation. And then BAM, right on cue, enter Khan in the jet, firing on a bunch of unarmed, unprepared captains and their officers. Marcus eats one in the shoulder or leg as he’s already diving for cover. Spock’s captain is caught completely by surprise and is killed easily. Spock is forced to see this happen right in front of him, and this jolts him into taking cover. Pike is shot pushing someone out of the way, and this is what kills him. Maybe he dies saving Kirk, really giving Kirk something to chew on for the rest of the movie, but I think it could work just as well if he was saving someone else (maybe Spock?), just to drive home that he’s that kind of guy, and that’s what Kirk aspires to be. Either way, it gets Kirk to realize that they’re all going to be sitting ducks here, and he takes off to find a way to stop the jet. It could even be the same gag as they did in the film, by using the firehose to destroy the jet’s intake port, giving Kirk just enough time to see Khan’s face before he porta-warps away. It would be nice to see Khan in a mask (maybe that wrap that he has when we see him on Kronos?), just to dehumanize him a little bit at this attack, but if we have to see his face, it should be one of utter disgust with Kirk. Here is this kid, someone genetically inferior to him in every way, and he just stopped his glorious revenge (before getting to Marcus to boot!) with a goddamn firehose. It should be a look of about 10% surprise, 20% respect, and 20% frustration, and 50% “the look of disdain you give an insect when it stings you.”

     From here, we can cut to a group funeral ceremony, everyone in their dress uniforms, pictures of the deceased up for everyone to see. Give Kirk a long take of looking at Pike’s picture, and milk all those emotions of sadness, fury, and a desire for revenge. Maybe the eulogy in the background could be talking about Captain Pike at this moment, talking about his bravery and last act of self-sacrifice. Maybe even have Kirk bail at this pivotal moment, unable to handle being there (and he has a history of running from his problems, after all). Cut to him meeting with Marcus, now using a cane or has his arm in a sling or something of that nature. Marcus could be talking about how Pike was a great man, someone he thought of like a brother (or a son?). Maybe Marcus and Kirk even share a drink over their lost friend (maybe even Marcus says something to the effect of “We’re not supposed to drink on duty, but I think this is an exception” and Kirk definitely agrees). Marcus asks Kirk what he wants to do, and Kirk responds with how he wants a “carte blanche” to do whatever he can to track down this guy and make him pay for what he’s done. Marcus sidesteps, explains how Pike would definitely disagree with Kirk’s desire for revenge, and would ask him to calm down before doing anything rash. Kirk acknowledges this to be true. Then Marcus nods and explains that Pike, while a great man, would often have trouble doing what was necessary when push came to shove. Marcus then can tell Kirk that they tracked Harrington’s porta-warp to Kronos, and explain the tense situation they have with the Klingons at the moment. He then tells him the plan to go to the edge of the Neutral Zone and fire at the fugitive’s location in the abandoned ruins. Kirk will explain that the Federation lacks any kind of weaponry capable of such a feat, to which Marcus debuts the new proton torpedoes developed at the secret facility that was bombed. “But sir, wasn’t it just a secret government intelligence office? I thought all weapons development was halted a long time ago!” or something to that effect from Kirk. This should be our first clue that Marcus isn’t all that he seems, and Kirk is starting to see it a little bit. Marcus responds by saying this is a dangerous time we’re living in, with the Klingons making trouble and terrorists like Harrington on the loose. He says something to the effect of “desperate times call for desperate measures” or “in order to fight monsters we must become like monsters” or something equally both reasonable and terrifying. Kirk begrudgingly agrees, maybe spurred on when Marcus mentions Pike again. Kirk will then ask about what ship he’s going to be taking, listing off smaller shuttle and fighter type ships, thinking this is a mission for him and him alone. Marcus then can turn around and say something like, “Oh no, son; you’ll be taking the Enterprise. Any problems with that, Captain?”

You can trust me

     From there, we can have a quick refresher of the major crew members on the Enterprise, even with the same argument with Scottie about loading the new top-secret missiles on the ship. But the important things are that we’ve already re-established Kirk and Spock’s dynamic, as well as raised the stakes for the whole ship and even the Federation. We need to feel for Kirk’s mission, how it must be THAT personal for him, as well as pushing the boundaries about what is acceptable and unacceptable in the pursuit for this dangerous criminal. More importantly, we can’t feel that Khan’s mission is just, and we especially can’t be on his side from the beginning. In the film, the only way we end up looking at him as a bad guy is because Old Spock told us so, and then Young Spock tells us again. We never actually SEE Khan express a desire to eliminate inferior beings; as far as we know he just wants to wake up his friends and live off the grid. It’s fine if we feel for him a little bit; after all, it just makes sense for someone to want their family back. But it needs to be established earlier that he’s the worst kind of arrogant, that he looks down on everyone that isn’t this superhuman badass, and that he feels the galaxy would be a better place without them. As it was shot, Khan comes off looking much more like the one who was wronged, justified in his desire for revenge against Marcus, who inversely comes off as looking like a cartoon supervillain. By really taking the time to establish their characters and motivations, Into Darkness could have been a very intriguing and dark look at the universe of the Federation. What it would mean for a peaceful society to interact with a belligerent one, what lengths people can and won’t go to for their friends, and what it really means to be the guy who jumps on the grenade. The movie could have explored all of these themes, and could have been really poignant about them, thought-provoking in the way that only science fiction can be. But instead, we got a silly spectacle of lights and explosions, a special effects action party just like nearly every other summer blockbuster that comes out. It is, to be perfectly blunt, disappointing.

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