The Enterprise is burning

Into darkness.. what a very fitting title for a film that sends the beloved franchise's narrative bumbling into the abyss of doubious philosophies.

Rest assured, i enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness just as much as the next person. I was stunned by the special effects, the plasticity of the earsplitting designer noise, by the disarming youth of Kirk and Spock. Fascinating - the other characters, though perceptibly younger as well, didn't strike me quite as such. 

No, it is Kirk and Spock who are meant to provide the main character development, who seem to be too naïve to be credible. Maybe the director had a fantastic David vs Goliath set up in mind, which would make us identify strongly with the Davids, unified against an uberhuman archvillain Goliath. Is it perhaps that they were pitted against an archvillain not only of considerable format, but also an actor in comfortable command of his craft? 

Into Darkness blunders in one of the most defining premises of the original Star Trek narrative: the fine balancing act between its scientific mission and the military command. Star Trek was Utopia in Space. Into Darkness is just pulling that defining premise into obscurity. It's not that the scientific and peaceful mission isn't "invented" by Kirk in the end - but that does not uphold a resemblance. The mission statement of the Enterprise has to be in place as a prerogative for the characters to function. Kirk has always been defined by the diplomacy and perspective of a military commander on a research mission - with the undisputed swashbuckling of a WWII flight ace. Without this in place, his character is sent into free fall. Disagree if you like, but for young Kirk to singlehandedly invent the Enterprise's mission at the end, just puts the overall narrative in even more trouble.

As it stands, David vs Goliath is tilting in favor of a performance by Benedict Cumberbatch too powerful to leave the buddy team portrayed by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto standing, much less making an impact. And this is where the Enterprise narrative catches fire.

If the villain here is part of a super-race, and there are more than enough pointers towards faschist race ideology in the villain, how could the director have overlooked that on screen his two Davids were losing out to Goliath? They are playing for their lives, but either their director was blind, or he was too preoccupied with all the green screening and CGI to realize what was happening to his film.

Using faschism in your villain is not to be taken lightheartedly, and piling 9/11 imagery on top of that in act three (plus a direct dedication in end titles) feels like a desperate attempt to win over an audience that is utterly confused about who they would like to side with - 72 frozen members of sexy Cumberbatches or the yearbook pick of Space Cadets on board the Enterprise.

Leaving the theatre, I felt slightly nauseous about having stuck with the villain. I was rooting for the master race, and J.J.Abrams made me. It's not the first time I'm upset with where a Hollywood Hero's Journey has taken me, and it will not be the last. I will report. And J.J., next time, use a dramaturg!



Another hero's journey

If you're like me, still perhaps forever striving to make this writing thing your living, you will likely just like me, find your inbox full of great if not indispensible advice on storytelling every day. Most of these emails will one way or another touch on the theme of relevance for the audience - audience engagement, getting them hooked on your story.

The most important advice to engage your audience seems to be: create a protagonist they will root for. This will be repeated over to a new scribe, until it echoes deep in his or her subconscious. And without so much as a critically furrowed brow, we have swallowed the toad.

And a toad it is. The hero in all his aggregate forms, is a child of a specific culture, of circumstance that gave permission to a usually male loner to defeat evil, rescuing princess and kingdom, and to do so single-handedly. Those hero's journeys are well loved and run on a heavy rotation in all your media. But are they relevant today? Hardly.

Personally, not only do I feel an increasing sense of irony when watching another hero's journey - an irony that has been reflected in recent superhero narratives, from 007 to Iron Man - but I also feel a sense of imminent danger, as if a red alert is being issued but I don't know it's source.

Possibly it's my instincts trying to alert me to the fact that, if we keep hammering yesterday's messages into our audiences' hearts, we are obliterating our relevance to them and giving our craft, our livelyhood and our industy over to the next, more relevant platform for stories that need to be told.

write on!


© Barbara Bauer 2013