Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Review and Estimation

***WARNING: Spoiler Alert and long rant ahead***

There's not too much I'll be able to add to what other people have already said more eloquently, but I'm going to put in my two cents in anyway. I just saw Star Trek: Into Darkness, and I have to admit I was disappointed. It wasn't Catwoman bad or even Phantom Menace bad, but it was quite possibly "Phantom Menace minus the scenes with Jar Jar" bad.

Don't get me wrong, Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty good as Khan1, but I found the editing to be downright dreadful. In one scene, Spock just barely pulls himself onto the edge of a flying car and in the next shot Khan kicks him back 15 feet from the middle of the car. Now, I could easily overlook one or two poorly edited shots, but I can't ignore the scene with Chekov holding up the much larger Kirk and Scottie, who are dangling over the side of a bridge. Mind you, Kirk couldn't hold Scottie by himself, but somehow the 130 pound Chekov has no problem lifting them both. I can only assume some amazing and dramatic miracle feat of strength occurred while the cameras were off, because a second later they're all happy and running through the Enterprise without any explanation. Whatever Chekov did must have been amazing to see, but apparently J.J. Abrams just wants us to fill in the details by ourselves (more on that in a moment).

While we're on the subject, when did J. J. Abrams decide to become Michael Bay?2 Seriously, I'd much rather see how that bridge thing got solved than watch another giant explosion that I'm just gonna tune out. And, no, Mr. Abrams, you can't just lazily copy highly emotional moments from the old movies and expect to elicit the same emotional response in your audience. Kirk's "death" didn't make me sad or even nostalgic. It made me think, "Hmm...they've got a cash cow of a franchise here and there's no way they're killing off Kirk, so I guess the dead tribble's coming back to life." That said, having Spock tear up did make me feel some genuine emotion, so I guess there's that.

Still, the main source of my disappointment has little to do with these small quibbles3 and more about the general direction this franchise has taken. The best part about old Star Trek is that it was actual science fiction, not cheesy action-adventure set in space. With that in mind, you can't just freeze a volcano and call it cold fusion without Gene Roddenbury and Isaac Asimov rolling over in their graves so fast we could use them as a renewable energy source.4  I'm used to Star Trek having a bigger message, and if there was one here I totally missed it.

Since this is Diary of Numbers, I can't justify ending this rant without at least some bit of calculation. With that in mind, my friend John had the best explanation I've heard for how Chekov could suddenly gain superhuman strength. According to John, "Russian Special Forces kettlebell workouts gives you strength of two men..."  Where would this put Chekov in the pantheon of great Russian weightlifters?

There's nothing the Muscleless Wonder and I take seriously if not for science and weightlifting, and this estimate combines both. If Chekov is as small as I think he is, he'd be in just about the lightest weight class of lifters. To get both Kirk and Scottie back on the bridge, I imagine him doing a motion similar to a snatch. I'd put Chris Pine and Simon Pegg at about 175 pounds each, meaning their combined weight would be 160 kilograms. With a 138-kilogram snatch, Halil Mutlu of Turkey holds the world record in the 56-kg division. Chekov would easily smash this record. Unless he's the next Pocket Hercules, there's no way he's pulling Kirk and Scottie back on the bridge.

Seriously, get it together, J.J. Abrams. I'm willing to give you a pass on this one under the assumption that you're distracted putting together a kick ass Star Wars movie. No second chances after that.5 Help me, J.J. Abrams.  You're my only hope.

Aaron Santos is a physicist and author of the books How Many Licks? Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything and Ballparking: Practical Math for Impractical Sports Questions. Follow him on Twitter at @aarontsantos.

[1] My buddy Matt was not so glowing in his endorsement of Cumberbatch: "I don't feel like I can call him 'Khan' because he isn't. He's British. And white. Khan Noonian Singh was of Indian descent. Hence the reason he took the title of Khan."
[2] QOTD from a friend on Facebook: "I'm pretty sure J.J. Abrams is the non-union Mexican equivalent of Christopher Nolan..."
[3] Let's call them "tribble quibbles"!
[4] Yes, I'm stealing that joke from somewhere, but I can't remember where, so I can't cite it.
[5] Though if I'm completely honest, I'm still probably going to spill out full price for whatever creatively emaciated junk they're going to throw at us. I can't help it....I need my cheesy movie fix.

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