Monday, May 27, 2013

To Boldly Fart - Why "Star Trek: Into Darkness" Doesn't Work as a Film

SPOILERS LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!BBQ!!11!!1!!

When I saw J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" in 2009, I thought it was okay. The plot wasn't perfect, but it was serviceable. The same cannot be said for Star Trek: Into Darkness. The popularity of this movie can only be attributed to what I call "Twilight Syndrome," in which fans of a series believe that including complex story elements and tie-ins to the series lexicon automatically makes a movie good. This is entirely untrue.

First of all, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the main villain is Khan; I'm pretty sure every Star Trek fan figured this out from the first trailer in December. If you've seen the movie, though, you'll be able to follow why I think this was a bad idea. First is this:

Star Trek: Into Darkness does not establish Khan as a character.
It's supposed to be a big reveal when Khan reveals his true identity in the middle of the film. This fails to achieve the desired reaction from the audience for two reasons:
  1. Abrams sprinkled too many clues for a fan of the Original Series to be surprised. Quite a lot of us knew that this was Khan going into the film, and no attempts were made to throw us off of the scent to preserve the surprise.
  2. Khan's revelation means nothing to first-time fans of these movies. No attempt is ever made within the film to explain who Khan even is. He mentions his own savagery, but the closest thing we get to a backstory about him comes from Khan himself, and he makes himself out to be a good guy who will do evil things to protect those he loves. That's fine, but Khan adds nothing to that role. We get Old Spock to hint that Khan was quite a pain to take down, but his phrasing is so vague it requires having seen Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan to even know what he's talking about, and in fact doesn't tell us anything about Khan the movie didn't tell on its own. We already know Khan does terrible things, we watched him commit two terrorist attacks in the beginning of the film! We already know Khan's a tough cookie, we watched him mow down dozens upon dozens of Klingon warriors and patrol ships on his own! Don't tell us what we already know!
Khan is not crucial to the story.
As a result of not characterizing him, the question becomes: does this really need to be Khan? Yes and no: you definitely needed the crew of the S.S. Botany Bay for most of this plot to work. The problem is, I don't think Khan himself was needed; Admiral Marcus could have easily woken up any other crewmember and gotten the exact same results. Appreciating Khan's significance already requires knowledge of his prior appearances, yet Khan himself exhibits no personality traits in common with his counterpart in Star Trek 2 that those fans can fall back on. If he had continued to go by the name "Harrison" for the rest of the film, I would have noticed similarities to Khan's storyline for sure, but not to Khan himself.

Admiral Marcus was a more threatening villain.
As much as Khan's devotion to his crew is supposed to mirror and oppose Kirk's own devotion, Khan really doesn't threaten that balance very much. When the Enterprise gets the ever-loving piss kicked out of it, it's done by Marcus and his Star Destroyer. Khan doesn't really fight Kirk until after Marcus is defeated, and when he starts beating the tar out of the Enterprise with the Star Destroyer again the audience has already lost all sense of peril. (Though that's partly because Khan was too dumb to notice that he had beamed armed nukes into the belly of the ship.) Khan actually causes none of the damage leading to Kirk's "sacrifice," and in the end is less threatening as a main villain than Admiral Marcus was as a side villain. In fact despite being the weaker story, just having this film focus on Marcus' story and scrapping Khan would have worked better. Everything Khan does could be accomplished by a rogue Section 31 agent (which is actually mentioned but never used in the story) who disagrees with Marcus' policies. The needed metaphor and comparison for Kirk's self-realization in this film could easily be accomplished by either this character or by Marcus himself; the film as it is already has Carol Marcus, his daughter, as a way for such a plotline to go forward. For all its preaching about devotion to one's crew this film is really about Kirk's and Spock's relationship, and making it more personal in this fashion would actually drive the message home better than Khan's story arc did.

Admiral Marcus' reveal had more impact than Khan's.
Again, you either knew it was Khan already, or you were in the crowd for whom this reveal meant absolutely nothing. Marcus, on the other hand, actually has some mystery building up until we see him show up in his Star Destroyer. You know Marcus is up to something pretty quickly in the second act, but you're not just dead sure what until the Star Destroyer shows up.

Admiral Marcus is the more effective villain.
Despite the fact that Khan is supposed to be the A-Plot here, the fact of the matter is that the audience never feels threatened by Khan. He has his terrorist attacks and his impressive show with the Klingons, but when Khan has the Enterprise at his mercy he stupidly beams aboard armed bombs (which someone like him ought to have anticipated, assuming the computer didn't detect it), ridding us of all tension since we know he's done for. Then, during the chase scene on Earth, we still don't feel threatened because Khan is by himself with no backup plan being chased by a fully-powered and very pissed off Enterprise crew.

Marcus, on the other hand, is an intelligent adversary who is only defeated because he didn't know Scotty was aboard to sabotage the ship. Even then, the Star Destroyer totally outclasses the Enterprise and demonstrates this by out-running it, pulverizing it, and generally having Kirk and his crew at its mercy. At no other time are the main protagonists truly in danger of being killed than when Marcus, not Khan, is blasting chunks off the Enterprise. It is the only point in the movie where the audience wonders, "How the heck are they gonna get out of this one?"

Conclusion
It's not that I don't like how Khan was used, as some of my family members have accused me of thinking. The problem is the execution: Khan is just never a threat. This film could have been saved by just toning down Marcus a bit. All you really have to do is give Khan to Marcus when he asks, have Khan take over the Star Destroyer (which he himself mentions can be operated by one man), and then kick the crap out of the Enterprise so they'll surrender Khan's crew. It still wouldn't be great, but it would be at least as good as the first movie, and you would knock it down to one action scene so that the audience doesn't get tired of seeing the Star Destroyer in action. Since the film makers were going for a Star Trek 2 remake of sorts, it would also fit better with that concept since Khan never got into a direct fist fight with the main characters in that film. You could still have the torpedo gamble that Spock made, but at least this way it could be something McCoy was working on during the battle like he did in Star Trek 6. This doesn't solve the problem of Khan having no personality, but then again neither did Nero; not a great work, but at least it would be serviceable.

If you still haven't seen Star Trek: Into Darkness and are just reading this for shits and giggles, I would wait until you can go rent it to see it. It's still a fun movie with some funny bits and easter eggs, but paying theater-price for it felt like a rip-off.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Religion

Hello. May I have a moment of your time to talk to you about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

Nah, I'm just fucking around. Truth is I'm about as atheist as someone can get: I was never anything else before becoming an atheist, despite constant bombardment by religious messages and symbolism. Maybe I'm just a stubborn ass, or maybe my way of thinking has some merit. Who knows? What I do know is that theists consistently fail to impress me. I'll try to outline why.

#1: Any theistic religion based on a holy book is false by default.
Unlike most atheists, I generally don't bother trying to deconstruct any particular religion. The entire construct of theistic religion is so easy to destroy at the macro level that unless a theist insists on going further, it just isn't necessary.

When you get right down to it, any document written or inspired by a supreme being would contain knowledge and wisdom so profound that no rational human being could deny the value of its contents. This text would not be subject to different interpretations, as any interpretation could only detract from the document's profundity. It would also be 100% consistent with all scientific observation, requiring no faith to believe its contents. There would therefore be no religion based on this document since its validity would be so painfully obvious that no cult following would be necessary to promote it.

We do not observe this phenomenon anywhere on planet Earth. If any document on Earth was indeed authored or inspired by a supreme being, then based on what we observe we can only conclude that this being intentionally lies to us on a regular basis. Since this creates a situation where we either have flawed evidence or no evidence, the only reasonable conclusion one can reach for the moment is that no supreme being is in communication with humanity.

#2: That which can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
Contrary to what a lot of folks on Omegle like to tell me, faith is not the only requirement for getting someone to believe in your dogma. Theists and particularly Christians treat faith like something to just be randomly cast out like a fishing like into a lake. That is not how faith works, and it cheapens the word to such a degree that even atheists are reluctant to use it these days.

If I have faith in my friend's ability to accomplish a task, it's because I know from experience that he has accomplished similar tasks in the past. Conversely, I do not have faith in one of my former friends to do that same task if called upon to do so, because he almost went out of his way to demonstrate that he was totally incapable of anything but making a fool of himself by the time I quit talking to him. Faith has multiple definitions, and the first has nothing to do with religion:

faith
Noun
1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

I have no reason to throw my faith behind a religion like Christianity just because someone demands that I do so. Christianity has done nothing to earn my faith. I have no evidence that being any kind of theist would do anything for me that being an atheist does not, yet theists claim that I should have faith anyhow. That ain't how it works. You want my faith? Earn it.

But if someone insists on using the second definition, then I can simply dismiss it. No evidence? Piss off. It's a very simple concept.

#3: Chickenshit Arguments
A favorite tactic of theists online and particularly Omegle is to say something like, "Jesus loves you," and then bolt. They do this so they can get in the last word and feel like they've won the argument. I hate to break your bubble, folks, but all you accomplish by saying that is annoying me. It's basically admitting that you can't refute a single argument I make, and that you prioritize getting the last word over actually being right; pride before truth, as it were. Isn't that one of the seven deadly sins? Interesting that an atheist would actually be better at avoiding some of these sins than the theists preaching them. Maybe theists should re-examine their own beliefs before attacking mine, hmm?

I already mentioned faith in point #2, but I will expand on it by another point often brought up to me: that of "feeling God's presence." The personal relationship in a nutshell. This can be explained by what is called a simulacrum (look it up), and is not only evidence against the religion in question but in fact evidence of  mental sickness. No one will ever convince me via this route unless they gather some damn good evidence of the same being speaking to a large number of individuals, and even then I would question if this is really their god or something else.

Then of course, for the larger religions of Islam and Christianity, they like to make an appeal to numbers and to growth. First of all, the idea that Christianity is the world's largest religion is bullshit. Christianity is divided into so many sects that it can hardly be considered a single religion anymore. Not only that, Christianity is experiencing a net shrinkage in followers, even as the Mormons try to claim the title of "fastest growing religion." That leaves Islam as the largest religion, and it is being actively suppressed by outside influences for the moment. Despite experiencing a net growth due to the absorption of Christianity, like that religion Islam is also losing a steadily increasing number of followers who are becoming atheists, particularly in more secular countries in the west. If atheism were a religion, it would be the 3rd largest in the world; 2nd if you don't consider Christianity to be one religion. If the numbers argument held true, the Abrahamic world wouldn't be eating itself while hemorrhaging lost followers into the atheist community.

Finally, if all else fails they will threaten you will hellfire or some equivalent. This is the most pathetic out of any argument. Like all other aspects of their religions, the existence of an afterlife has no evidence, and can be dismissed as easily as it is claimed. Besides, if a supreme being really did want me to suffer for eternity for not worshiping them, I somehow doubt that I'd enjoy the alternative much more.

That's It
That is my entire argument against theistic religions. Note how I never brought up evolution, or the Big Bang, or anything else that typically comes up in these discussions. I don't need them. Religion is self-falsifying, and doesn't need science's help to collapse once one realizes this. If you are a theist and feel the need to argue such topics after reading this, you have missed the point of this blog post. It does not matter if you think scientific theories are wrong if your worldview is also wrong. The sooner theists realize this, the sooner we can all move on.