Monday, September 16, 2013


Star Trek Into Darkness' is now out on DVD and for those who hoped some of the extra features would include a story that made sense, you're out of luck. Detractors (including me) have said a lot of things about the movie. Most are, frankly nit-picks. I don't expect Chris Pine to sound just like William Shatner, so having Carol Marcus speak with a British accent is not a deal breaker for me.

But whatever you think Star Trek is, was or should be, there is one specific, overwhelming issue with STID that should upset just about every Star Trek fan, and yet it hasn't (and no, I'm not referring to Khan – another, different problem altogether). I'm talking about the infamous "transwarp transporter' that was first introduced in the last film as a "deus ex machina" – a plot device introduced out of nowhere to satisfy an impossible situation with an equally ludicrous solution. In short, the "transwarp transporter" (TT) can apparently transport people from one point to another no matter the receiving end's location, distance or speed. And it can do it instantaneously! It's one of those things that you assume the writers want you to not notice and then they never bring it up again. But no! This singularly bad idea was resurrected for Star Trek Into Darkness, which means that from now on, this device is part of this Star Trek's universe.

"So what," you say? "What's the big deal?" Well, let's look at this (forgive me) logically. We now have a device that can beam someone to...well... anywhere. Across solar systems, across even interstellar space...ANYWHERE!!!

Which begs a question: why does Star Trek need starships anymore?

Simply put, it doesn't – the TT makes starships obsolete. I'm not splitting hairs or using selective truth to make a point. Given the way the device is used IN TWO FILMS, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the fact that Star Trek no longer needs an Enterprise or any other ship to get from here to there, because now you can transport lightyears in a snap. And like that metaphorical gorilla, this fact is totally ignored.

And therein lies the problem that I have with these movies. Director JJ Abrams and his writers invented the TT just to fill a plot hole and in so doing Abrams negates the very premise upon which Star Trek is built – exploration of the Galaxy aboard the Starship Enterprise – and is either not aware of it or simply doesn't care. There are no other options.

But despite the TT being a game-changer in our fictional universe, after each time it is used, there's no acknowledgement that the basics of Trek science and warp physics have been redefined by this miraculous device. But how can that be? If we suddenly had a device that could send us from our homes to the other side of the planet (or anywhere else) in an instant, we wouldn't need cars anymore. Trains and planes would cease to be used, and our civilization would forever be changed, right? THIS WOULD BE A BIG DEAL!!!

Alas, apparently in the world of new Star Trek, everyone forgets about this ground-breaking technology until such a time as they need it to perform yet another miracle. And that is simply lousy storytelling, whether you're talking Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, or Hamlet. 

By needlessly introducing this magical device we are left with nothing but a non sequitur: if the world of Star Trek has Transwarp Transporters then we don't need the Enterprise, but if we don't need the Enterprise, we can't tell very interesting stories, so we can't have Transwarp Transporters, but we DO have Transwarp Transporters, but that means...

And on and on and on.

Unfortunately, the Transwarp Transporter is only a symptom, not the real disease. The true sickness with STID is the willingness to trade-off true, emotional storytelling with expediency. What's next – a hand phaser that can incinerate a planet? Don't laugh – to JJ it's just another plot device to make a situation easy to resolve.

Star Trek shouldn't be easy. Our heroes shouldn't be able to get out of situations via magic technology or magic blood or magic screenplays. They should win because they are smarter, more capable and more determined than their opponent. Trick transporters bely that.

Star Trek has always been about the human condition and aspiring to be better. The action part has always, ALWAYS been subordinate to the story, just as it was with the original Star Wars, for instance. I need Star Trek to be better than Armageddon and Transformers. I need it to aspire to greatness, not settle for being popcorn fodder. Copying Wrath of Khan or simply mentioning the word "family" does not make for truly emotional connections. I need more depth than duplication.

A friend of mine recently said that he'd rather have bad Star Trek than no Trek at all. I'm exactly the opposite. If Star Trek aspires to be something greater than mindless entertainment and fails, so be it. But to set the bar so low as ID does is selling Star Trek short. I hope the next Trek is turned over to someone who is fundamentally a better storyteller. A person that understands that the story is the most important part of any movie and that to settle for stitching together a series of action scenes that make no sense lacks vision.

It's HARD to make a good movie. So we need better, smarter people making them. My favorite Trek film, Wrath of Khan, is not flawless, but it has no deal breakers – moments so incredulous as to pull me out of the story. I don't need a perfect movie – just one that doesn't insult my intelligence.




  1. Aren't all transporters, "trick transporters"? Working and broken whenever the story requires them to be. Isn't that part of the whole reason behind the Prime Directive? To keep our heroes from just being able to disappear whenever a situation becomes too dangerous for them to handle?

    Transporters are miracle workers in the Prime timeline as well. Need kids restored to their adult selves? Pull out the transporter trace. Need to save your doctor from a rampant aging disease? Grab some DNA and rebuild her body from scratch using the transporter.

    1. I agree and I don't like those cheats either. But none of these examples redefine the premise of the Trek concept like the Transwarp Transporter. That's a UNIVERSE changer!

    2. I disagree.

      It's no more a game changer than the original transporter was. There are still going to be uses for starships just like there were still uses for shuttlecraft in Star Trek.

      I just don't see it as something that breaks the universe. No more than when TNG used the same device in "Bloodlines".

    3. The original TOS transporter had limits. This new one apparently doesn't. Which is why it should never have been created.

      "There are still going to be uses for starships just like there were still uses for shuttlecraft in Star Trek."

      No, they won't, and that's my whole point. Why would they? You can beam ANYWHERE and you can do it faster than a ship. Khan went to freakin' KRONOS. I didn't make the rules, JJ did.

      We'll have to agree to disagree on the impact.

    4. We saw similar and dangerous long-range "subspace beaming" as far back as Next Gen's "Bloodlines".
      But, in that episode it was made clear that the technology wasn't really practical and therefore would not play a major role in future novels, etc:

      LAFORGE: We think he's using some sort of subspace transporter to beam aboard the Enterprise.
      PICARD: My understanding is that such devices were impractical.
      DATA: The Federation abandoned its research in the field because the technology was found to be unreliable, as well as energy intensive.
      LAFORGE: In order to transport matter through subspace, you have to put it into a state of quantum flux. It's very unstable.

      I remembered the long-range subspace transporter from Bloodlines, but I had forgotten the important lines from Data and La Forge about how the technology was already known, unstable, unreliable, and energy intensive. That certainly takes away most of the advantages I was linking to the "new" technology. Unstable and unreliable, so you probably don't want to transport people that way regularly. Energy intensive, so even cargo transportation could be done more effectively with ships than with subspace/transwarp beaming. And known because Scotty and others had presumably experimented with the technology prior to 2369, when that episode takes place.

  2. Agree totally... and I didn't even have to add on the absurdity of coming out of warp past the orbit of the moon - and somehow within moments crashing down through the earth's atmosphere... or Khan's magic blood that gives everyone immortality... or any of the other completely lazy storytelling moments to back up your assertions of this NuTrek... In the end - my big complaint is the one we're hearing from the long time fans... I MISS GENE RODDENBERRY'S STAR TREK... you know - the positive uplifting vision of the future that inspired doctors, engineers, astronauts, scientists, teachers, etc... NuTrek inspires what? Filmmakers who want big explosions and fast cuts to cover up poor storytelling?

  3. There's plenty in TWOK to take you out of the story. I think that there's some blood wine tinted goggles on when it comes to the old movies.

    Ceti Alpha 6 exploded, yet the helmsman or computer never noticed that there is one less planet than there was when Kirk was there? There is no debris from the explosion? Ceti Alpha 5 is the exact same size and was conveniently blown into the exact same orbit as Ceti Alpha 6 used to have? So there is nothing whatsoever to make the crew even suspect that it's not 6?

    Khan said that the crew of the Botany Bay had been stranded on Ceti Alpha VI for 15 years. Considering that most of his crew were in their 20s, wouldn't that mean they were all children when they were first stranded? In the original TV series, all of these superhumans were already adults, so how come Khan was the only person to age?

    1. WOK has its own problems but nothing remotely as huge and stupid as Khan suddenly being British. To each their own.

    2. I'm curious why you think the crew were in their 20s... that was never established. And if you are basing it on physical appearance... I seem to recall a 2nd season TNG episode with genetically engineered children who had the bodies of adults... so - not really a "problem" - just something unexplained. As far as the Ceti Alpha 6 debacle - even in our own solar system we are constantly revising how man y moons planets have... we are constantly revising how many exoplanets nearby stars have. In 15 years - various Starfleet maps have been updated or refined - with all the billions of stars - totally reasonable to expect this discrepency wouldn't be a big deal - that's why the reliant went to the system - because they didn't have enough info on it to begin with - that's why they were running scans on the planets to see if they would be suitable for Genesis. So - I think it's rather a "reach" to compare these small moments which can have a quite logical explanation with the gaping maw plot holes and stupidities of STID...

  4. Ah yes, the U.S. Army had a similar revelation in the 1960s, when the invention of the helicopter rendered cars, tanks and APCs completely obsolete. Helicopters, of course, which can deliver anyone or anything to any place in the world in a snap and don't even need to follow roads (and in some cases, don't even need real landing sites). The Army didn't split hairs either, it was totally obvious that the Army no longer needed relatively slow-moving land vehicles when it could just as easily send soldiers and materials where they needed to go on a perfectly good helicopter. That, of course, is the reason why the Army completely stopped using ground vehicles of any kind immediately after adopting the helicopter, because if you have air transport, cars are simply obsolete.

    That's logical... right?

    1. With all due respect, your argument is apples and oranges. The Transporter isn't the equivalent of a helicopter versus car because there simply is no current comparison that works. In the case of the Magic Transporter, there's literally nowhere that a starship can go that the magic Transporter can't go AND get you there instantly! And instantly always beats anything else. I didn't make the rules, JJ and the writers did.

      Thanks for reading.


    2. The comparison works just fine. Transporters are one particular means of locomotion sufficient for people and small objects over a great distance. Starships are another means of locomotion for large groups of people or very large payloads over similar distances. In pretty much the same way the invention of the transporter did not render shuttlecraft obsolete; on the contrary, two hundred years after that invention, Starfleet vessels still carry huge numbers of shuttlecraft and dedicated launch bays to hold and maintain them. The "magic transporters" didn't render them obsolete either.

      I don't see that the invention of a technique for beaming small groups of individuals on one-way trips to completely unknown destinations with no way to beam them back or even confirm that they arrived there safely would in any way render starships "obsolete." There are already implicit limitations in the function of conventional transporters (just ask the shuttle pilots!), while transwarp beaming is almost a circus stunt by comparison.

    3. IMO: Starship is to Magic Transporter as Jeep is to Jet Plane not helicopter. I can cross a continent with a Jeep but why would I if I have a jet?

      You mention implicit limitations but those are apparently not germane to this new device. That's the problem – it apparently has no limits! It can beam onto a ship moving at warp! It can beam across hundreds of light-years to a heavily-guarded enemy planet! If I can instantly beam to a planet like Kronos (which should be hard but apparently is not), why exactly do I need a starship? I could beam as many people there as I wanted to send and they could take Magic Transporter units with them and beam back and report. Why did Marcus need a big-ass stealth ship when he could beam any number of bombs directly onto Kronos and do whatever he wanted? He didn't. Instead of a starship being the FIRST, BEST WAY to travel interstellar space, now the magic Transporter is the first, best way. Which is why I think it was a silly concept and lazy story-telling, IMO.

      The Magic Transporter diminishes challenges by making all things possible. When all things become possible, there's no challenge. And challenge is what Star Trek is all about.

      You think of the Magic Transporter as just another tool. But AS SHOWN it is a tool that makes all others obsolete. All powerful and without limits. Again, that's not my interpretation – that's how the writers presented it. I think it's ludicrous, just like Magic Blood, and starships as submarines and Khan suddenly being a white guy and on and on. If you think those are all good ideas, more power to you. I do not.

    4. It just occurred to me that Magic Transporters are actually just like Stargates. But you don't even need a gate at the other end!