Treknobabble is a continuing series of columns written by uber-Trekkie Reed Farrington leading up to and following the release of J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to defend my hatred of the latest Star Trek movie for the umpteenth time. And I’m exaggerating because I didn’t hate the movie. I was disappointed by it. No, this Treknobabble is an editorial generally concerning how people react to movie reviews. So I’ll be talking about things like people’s tendency to judge other people based on the movies they like, and how movie reviews are perceived. Of course, this discussion can apply to other artistic endeavors like music and books, but since this is a film site, I’ll try to focus on films whenever I can.
Now from the title of this Treknobabble, you might think that I’m being defensive about my recent position on the latest Star Trek movie. But I understand that people weren’t criticizing my opinion so much as criticizing my inability to express why I had the negative opinion to begin with (even though I acknowledged I was finding it difficult to explain why I hated the movie). I knew that if I started listing reasons without backing them up, then I would still be open to criticism. And I knew that my reasons were personal preferences that would be open to ridicule. And I didn’t want to make people think that they shouldn’t go see Star Trek simply because I had problems with it. If I start running out of things to say, maybe I’ll come back to talk about the Star Trek movie.
Ever since becoming involved with Film Junk, I’ve noticed that the comments on posts and reviews often express incredulity at how people can like certain movies. And people often impugn the film criticism credentials or even general intelligence of other people based on their opinions. (I suppose the criticism is somewhat valid if the reviewer can’t explain his opinions.) Because of the impersonal nature of the Internet, people can hide behind anonymity and let loose their baser instincts without fear of physical harm. The inhibitions that are often masked in civilized society are allowed free reign.
As a reviewer, I need to be careful to not let slip my general impression that people are â€œidiots.â€ I know some people are offended by the implication when some Trekkies say that the latest Star Trek movie is so popular because the writers dumb downed the script. So I can understand how some reviews can naturally generate negative feedback. People should understand though that intellectuals think the entire Star Trek franchise is rather puerile to begin with. Star Trek novels aren’t exactly seen as literature.
To be honest, my first inclination upon hearing that a person likes documentaries is to think that the person is intellectual. This is somewhat strange because I like to think of myself as an intellectual even though I generally don’t care to watch a documentary. I think I share the average filmgoer’s opinion that real-life offers enough reality, so let me watch something like beautiful people in outer space instead. Because most people consider their tastes to be wonderful, they will most likely question the reasoning abilities of people who do not share the same tastes. And I suppose like outward displays of prejudice, belittling others makes people feel better about themselves.
It’s a natural tendency for people to judge other people because they are different. When this tendency manifests in ugly behavior and physical harm to other people, we have words like â€œprejudiceâ€ that reflect negatively on the people who have taken the tendency to an extreme. Sometimes it’s not enough to recognize that we are prone to this tendency.
In Star Trek, there is a concept known as Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC) that has come from the logically minded Vulcans. I suppose there must be an equivalent sociological concept that I am not aware of, but basically the concept emphasizes that everyone is different and that strength comes from integrating these differences rather than obliterating them. It’s an idea inherent in multiculturalism. It’s the idea expressed in the statement that â€œthe sum is greater than the individual parts.â€ I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that even Trekkies have a hard time adhering to the precept.
Trekkies seem to be divided regarding the new movie. I get the feeling that the majority either loved or liked it. Across the divide, there seems little compassion for the others’ point-of-view. Trekkies who liked the movie seem to think the naysayers should be ignored and even banned from forums. And Trekkies who didn’t like the movie continue to rant against the movie with sometimes â€œminorâ€ quibbles that even those like myself roll their eyes at. Now I know I can sit here on my high-stool, or maybe that should be pedestal, and present myself with equanimity. And that in itself can annoy people.
It’s interesting that a logical approach to human interaction without concern for others’ emotions can have its problems. This was amply demonstrated in the Original Series episode â€œThe Galileo 7â€ in which Spock is in command of a shuttle crew. When a crew member is killed, Spock does not consider the feelings of the other crew members who wish to bury their dead comrade out of respect for a human’s life. Spock thinks logically that it would be dangerous to attempt to bury the crew member while hostile aliens may still be in the area. Perhaps Spock is right, but he should have intuited or solicited the feelings of his crew who had been affected by the death and needed time to mourn. The episode is effectively concluded when Spock makes a decision based on emotion that ends up saving the crew.
Because people are passionate about movies, it’s all too easy for emotions to come into play. I’ve taken to reading a book called People Skills â€“ How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts by Robert Bolton, Ph.D. Even without advice from an “expert”, I would tend to resolve an untenable situation with words to the effect, “Let’s agree to disagree.” But this is often seen to be an excuse to avoid deciding who is right and even an admittance of defeat. Perhaps I should be reading a book about how to argue effectively. But I think I also need to read a psychology book about dealing with aggressive people who think only their opinion matters.
Without getting into detail that is beyond the scope of this Treknobabble, let me list the twelve barriers to communication from Bolton’s book. These are ways that people respond and that can lead to endless argument. If you read the Film Junk comments, then you will surely nod your head at some if not all of these kinds of responses. I was tempted to take examples from the Film Junk comments, but I didn’t want to single out people or provoke further argument.
4. Praising Evaluatively
8. Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning
11. Logical Argument
The barriers can be divided into three categories: judging (1 thru 4), sending solutions (5 thru 9), and avoiding the other’s concerns (10 thru 12). Now some of these may sound like appropriate kinds of responses like reassuring. If you’re really curious about why reassuring can be a bad thing, I suggest you find a copy of Bolton’s book.
(Interestingly, Bolton is astute to state that a thirteenth barrier would be to point out to someone that they are using these barriers. People generally don’t like to be told what to do or to feel like they’re being taught a lesson. One of the main criticisms of the Original Series is its tendency to moralize.)
When discussing a movie, it’s all too easy to start a real-world debate about a topic that a movie presents either in a scene (date-rape for example) or as a thematic whole (religion for example). These discussions are none too-satisfying, because unless they are moderated like a debate, we get the same points repeated from both sides (often in unclear statements by nature of people’s poor communication skills) ad nauseam because of no time limits. And both sides often have valid points, but the problem is that each side thinks its valid points add up to a clear decision when in actuality, the decision is based on individual personalities.
It’s all too easy to call someone a hypocrite or a devil’s advocate. But people are complicated. They should be allowed to be inconsistent and biased. They should be allowed to change their minds. Unfortunately, when you’re a film reviewer, people like to be able to value your consistent opinion so that they can use your judgment in deciding whether it’s worth their time and money to see a film.
Some reviewers with an extensive background in analyzing films and with a thorough knowledge of film history are generally ignored when they review films out of the mainstream. When they do review popular films, audiences tend to ignore their obvious high-brow opinions. I have yet to read a favorable review of a Wayans film (from any Wayans generation), but Wayans’ films obviously make money, or else we wouldn’t be constantly seeing advertisements for them. I guess film reviewers feel obligated to review these movies since people are expecting the movies to be reviewed even though the reviews will be generally ignored. I’ve asked Sean and Jay why we don’t review movies like 17 Again and Hannah Montana, and they freely admit that they won’t enjoy these movies, so why bother reviewing them?
Whenever Siskel & Ebert used to review Star Trek movies, they always seemed patronizing in that they didn’t consider the Star Trek movies to be of any worth except as â€œcomfort foodâ€ for Trekkies. I think they would even relax their standards. Ebert commented that it was nice to see the Star Trek crew / family every few years in a movie. He would generally give a thumbs up. Until I saw the new Star Trek, it was surprising to me that Ebert, who is not a Trekkie, gave a generally negative review of it. I think I had admired Ebert’s opinion ever since he gave a thumbs up to Swamp Thing with Adrienne Barbeau (John Carpenter’s wife at the time, I believe). When I eventually saw Swamp Thing, I wasn’t too impressed, but it impressed me that someone who appreciated Citizen Kane could also appreciate a low-budget schlock movie.
I don’t think that one has to appreciate the films that are generally regarded as classics in order to be able to assess films for the general public. Modern audiences are often criticized for their short attention spans. Filmmakers like Michael Bay are generally derided by film reviewers even though Bay’s films are generally loved by the mass audience. Many reviewers often concede that when they review a â€œbadâ€ film, they’re sure there is still an audience for it. I would love to find a reviewer who only loves â€œbadâ€ films. I bet he/she would be really popular.
Let me get back to one aspect of the latest Star Trek movie. This will hopefully illustrate the difficulty in expressing an opinion that most people don’t seem to agree with although many critics do concede the point and enjoyed Star Trek nevertheless. I think the script for Star Trek is ordinary. I did not find the alternate timeline / reality to be a clever way to reboot Star Trek. I realize that alternate timelines have been speculated upon in quantum theory, but the way Spock Prime deals with the situation is inconsistent with established Star Trek lore. Wait, as I’m thinking, I’m beginning to rationalize that maybe Spock Prime was somewhat helpless and did the best he could to make sure that events in his original timeline would eventually stay the same. I suppose I could get sidetracked in a discussion of time-travel that would cause its own debate. Needless to say, I don’t think they should have gone the way of time-travel.
On the whole consistency issue, people have said that Star Trek is fantasy with its warp-drive and dilithium crystals, but Star Trek tries to be consistent with its technology and tries to give its technology a scientific underpinning. This â€œrealismâ€ is often cited when crediting Star Trek’s popularity to the notion that people imagine Star Trek to be representative of humanity’s future. Now, I suppose if you want to make Star Trek exciting for a new generation, then you can start ignoring Star Trek’s history, but don’t tell me not to get upset when my belief system is disturbed! (And for those who think that Star Trek is only a movie, it’s more than that. It’s also a television series! )
I think the story moved too fast in establishing the crew on the Enterprise. I understand that the idea was to highlight some key points to establish the characters of Kirk and Spock while keeping the pace of the movie quick. If I were to accept that a reboot was necessary, perhaps I would have preferred starting the crew into a new and clever story. Maybe this would necessitate having flashbacks which I generally don’t like. I don’t know. But am I obligated to tell you an alternate way that the reboot should have been handled in order to justify my opinion that the script was ordinary?
All the references to the original Star Trek got annoying for me. I would have been happier if the script had added to the Star Trek mythology instead of cloyingly pandering to nostalgia. A few callbacks to the original would have been fine. I realize that it was a tough balance for the filmmakers to satisfy fans as well as people unfamiliar with the franchise. For me, they didn’t add anything new and something fresh and new was what I was expecting.
In writing my Star Trek review, I felt like it was a Kobayashi Maru. That is, a no-win scenario. I attempted to take a few paragraphs in this column to expand on an opinion and explain the difficulties in supporting it, but I don’t think I adequately succeeded.
In summary, I don’t expect people to not judge other people based on their taste in movies. But I would hope people would use some self-control like the Vulcans do in controlling their emotions. Otherwise, their comments will only fall on deaf, pointed ears.