Posted by: David Stewart | May 28, 2009

Magic Replaces Rationality

Many directors have a characteristic style or scene that becomes their trademark. For example, Steven Spielberg’s swooping crane shots or Spike Lee’s "floating" effect, when a character seems to glide in the air like a ghost instead of walking to make it look like they are in a world of their own.

For JJ Abrams, any aficionado of “Lost” can readily spot his signature – a scene of climactic action in which nearly all of the action’s sound has been muted and the only sound we hear is the heavy strings of an orchestra playing a schmaltzy tune which tells us, “Something big and emotional is happening here.” Usually this scene comes in the final minutes of an episode of “Lost” when some character is about to die or experience some terrible life change.

In Star Trek, the signature JJ Abrams scene comes early the the first reel. The action switches between the USS Kelvin and a shuttle craft during a space battle. There is both dialog and sound effects, but all has been muted away for the rich strings swelling the scene telling us to “cry now.”

A further look at Lost can explain a fundamental impression I have of the new Star Trek – that JJ Abrams can speak the language of the culture and of TV. But he doesn’t write fiction that makes logical sense.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Lost is a terrific show. In trying to be in the science fiction genre, it fails to give rational answers to questions which come up repeatedly. Rather, when it suits Abrams to wave his hands and call something magical or irrational, he is fine with it and assumes the audience is as well.

And there is much in Star Trek which makes no rational sense:

  • Why is the bridge of the starship turned over to a 17 year old? Repeatedly!
  • And why when said 17 year old has command of the bridge does he turn it over to someone else (someone even less junior?) just to perform an emergency transporter operation?
  • Why does a ship carry around a 5-foot ball of mysterious “red matter” when only a one-inch bit of it is required to complete a mission? I can understand carrying around another one or two spares, but a 5-foot ball of the stuff? Especially when this stuff is rather dangerous in the wrong hands.
  • Don’t get me started about “space diving” and how an object in orbit around a planet can’t simply “dive” into the atmosphere of said world. This is garden-variety non-scientific irrationality, but common in space operas.
  • I shouldn’t spoil this, but how can an object be “blown free” from a black hole by a big explosion of anti-matter? (OK, maybe some pseudo-science is going on here, but this really bothered me).
  • And why oh why would a cadet who had never graduated from the academy (and who was under a cloud of suspicion) be awarded any kind of commission in a regular fleet?

I liked Star Trek just as I enjoy Lost.  But not because it makes any sense.

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