The Epilogue

This is the final post of the Axanar critique.  Thanks for joining me on this ramble through the script.  I hope you enjoyed it.

 

Axanar ends on the planet. I’m guessing this is the peace conference. All of the delegates and bystandards are mingling. Travis has survived. Even though we won’t see it, I bet he’s changed.

Garth is busy looking at the sky.

April: None of this would have happened without you, Kel. I’m proud of you.

Meta-Captain April: We gave you a task a cadet could handle, and you didn’t fuck up. Good job.

Garth needs to get some angsting in before the end.

Garth: A lot of good people gave their lives up there. They’re the ones who made this possible. Not me.

That’s why the script has been all about Garth and not about those good people, right?

Since the script has focused on Garth to the exclusion of everyone else, as much as the writers want it to be seen as humility, it strikes one as false humility.

April: That’s it. You’re teaching humility at the Academy next semester.

Meta-Captain April: You’ll serve as a horrible warning.

(they both laugh)

For different reasons.

Here’s what I know. When the moment came, you made the tough calls.

It’s easy when you don’t have real relationships. From page one, the other characters were there for Garth to use to their advantage. Throwing them away took no more effort that throwing away a tissue.

That’s what it means to sit in the big chair.

What is with the constant references to the captain’s chair as “the big chair”? Once is a nice character trait, but this happens in dialogue and description.

Now that he’s praised Garth, April gets back to the Enterprise, probably so someone else can come kiss Garth’s feet.

April EXITS. As Garth turns to leave as well, he sees Kharn has been STANDING NEARBY, waiting for him.

Of course, he has.

Garth thanks Kharn for the effort he’s put into the peace treaty. So, Kharn has changed from a Khan-type character to a proto-Gorkon. Poor guy must have whiplash.

The pair starts walking and talking because if we’re not going to have a battle scene, we’d better have a walk-and-talk.

Garth wants to know what Kharn will do next. Kharn is apparently going to ride herd on the hardliners to give peace a better chance.

Garth: I certainly hope we’ve done more than simply postpone this war for another generation to fight.

That’s pretty much the definition of warfare right there. When did Garth become the naïve idealist?

Kharn: We Klingons are a proud people, Captain. But some of us know that winning a battle, while losing an Empire, is no victory.

Garth: And losing a battle, while preserving an Empire, is no defeat.

Deep Space Nine’s “Way of the Warrior.”  I don’t really see the Klingon proverbs as being homage or plagiarism. It’s established in Trek that they’re a part of Klingon culture, so I’d expect them to be used sparingly in derivative works.

(smiles at Kharn’s look)

Yeah, I’ve read your book.

I think the script is trying to establish that Garth knew what Kharn was going to do because he read Kharn’s book, but we were never shown him with Kharn’s book so it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Also, there’s something familiar about that line.  Homage or parallel development, you decide.

Kharn: Perhaps if I had read yours, Axanar would have ended differently.

Or if you’d checked out your surroundings. Or not had a shapeshifting spy on your ship. Don’t give Garth too much credit here. (Hah, who am I kidding?)

Garth: That’s why I never wrote one.

“I just let other people write them for me.”

Kharn smiles. Truly, this Izarian is worthy of his respect.

The writers just can help themselves, can they? Three pages to go and they have to work in a little more praise of Garth.

Anyway, they pause in the walk-and-talk.

Kharn: There is a custom, I believe ,from Earth’s age of sail.

That’s “Age of Sail” to anyone who knows a damn thing about it. And why is a Klingon following an Earth tradition that’s centuries out of date by this point? Is there a Klingon branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism? (Fun fact: The offering of the sword dates back considerably further than the Age of Sail. It was also not confined to naval tradition.)

(he pulls out his knife)

Oh, I see. Sue needs a trophy.

Kharn: The master of a ship, having lost in battle, would present his weapon to the one who had bested him.

Why is Kharn educating Garth on Earth history? You know, it would make a lot more sense if this were cast as a Klingon custom. The audience would see the parallels—Garth could even remark on it—but it wouldn’t be as bizarre as a Klingon performing an Earth ritual.

(hands it to Garth)

This was my weapon, Captain.

Garth take the knife, honored. He’d like to return the gesture, but has nothing to give.

That’s why Kharn is educating Garth; Garth doesn’t know anything about his own planet’s history. If he did, he might know that occasionally a victorious commander would return the defeated commander’s weapon or refuse to take it, symbolically allowing him to retain honor.

Of course, once you give a Sue something, you’re never getting it back. It’s like my late dog with a toy.

Then he remembers – there’s an ARES PATCH on the shoulder of his dress uniform.

Garth uses the knife to remove it and hands it to Kharn.

“You get a patch!  You get a patch!  You get a patch!  EVERYBODY GETS A PATCH!”

I am laughing so hard right now that I’m crying. Garth has nothing but patches.  I know, I’m ruining a touching moment between Kharn and Garth. Still, if there’s a moment that sums up all of Axanar, that’s it.

Anyway, the patch stands for Ares, Garth’s weapon. Yeah, that was totally a vessel of exploration.

They shake hands and the script gives us another novel-worthy line: Born under different stars…they are brothers in arms.

Aw, how happy.

We have to have a parallel scene, however, so we jump to Soval and Mor’o, who discuss the future. They talk a little about politicking, apparently Vulcans and Klingons have a bit in common. Soval tells Mor’o he probably had to be more subtle that Soval did.

Mor’o: A Klingon more subtle than a Vulcan?

Soval: (arches an eyebrow) It is most illogical.

M’oro laughs, so I think that’s supposed to be a joke. It will never be as funny as Garth giving Kharn a patch, though.

Back to Garth, who is admiring his new trophy.

He looks at the knife, its blade still marked by the flames. He wonders how many lives it’s taken – a reminder that the price of peace is always paid in blood.

I’d love to see someone try to act that. With the number of unactable (inactable?) character lines in the script, I’d guess the writers are somewhat unfamiliar with how actors work.

Satisfied, Garth heads down the path towards the terrace…

…and is suddenly GRABBED AND DRAGGED OUT OF SIGHT.

My God, will this story never end? So much false tension here you could cut it with a cardboard knife. Wet cardboard.

It’s Corax. Of course, we need a little false tension so at first she’s in her Klingon guise and threatens to kill Garth, but then she changes back after taking his new toy away to show how awesome she is with her combat skills.

Corax: Or…you could just thank me. [instead of her “gutting him like a Targ”] We’ll figure something out.

I bet you will. It still won’t be appropriate.

Garth hails the Ares and says there are two to beam up. Leonov answers. That poor Transporter Chief must be back in the head.

Garth and Corax stand together, looking at one another with admiration and affection.

We’re on the last page, Garth has to get a little more admiration in before we end.

Garth congratulates her on her performance.

Corax holds something up…it’s the PAWN.

Oh, yeah, that had to make an appearance. SYMBOLISM. Of course, it has exactly nothing to symbolize here. It’s just a pawn.

Corax: I know. (smiling) That’s why you hired me.

Yeah, because that’s something that happens in Starfleet.

She tosses it to Garth.

Another trophy for our Sue. He’s getting quite a collection.

They DEMATERIALIZE.

FADE TO BLACK.

THE END.

Thank. God.

 

Now that I’ve made my way through the Axanar script, I can say that I do not believe it measured up to the hype.

From the perspective of someone familiar with story structure, characterization, theme, and so on, it lacks what is required to be a successful story in its own right.  It certainly had no commercial potential, which would require it to have an engaging plot and characters, to say nothing of snappier dialogue and more compelling visuals.  Planning on it being a “calling card” for the team’s industry work was over-ambitious.

That said, I think it could have been a fun little fan film at least on par with Of Gods and Men and Renegades.  Why?  It has a lot of elements that identify it as belonging to the in-group: TNG-style technobabble and briefing rooms; shield percentages and tech-tech exploding; philosophizing, even if it’s quite shallow; Klingon proverbs.  More than that, it has a Mary Sue who doesn’t exist as an independent character.  As with the Twilight or Fifty Shades of Gray series, the main character is a hole the story that the audience can occupy.  Audience members can make the writers’ fantasy their own.  It’s regrettable that the creators couldn’t recognize Axanar for what it was and embrace those qualities.  As those of us involved in community theater recognize, performance is not about being a union actor or winning a Tony; a good show, at whatever level, brings joy to its audience.  As Trek community theater, Axanar could have brought joy to a lot of people.  It just went a little too far, and its pride brought it down.

~K.S.

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It’s All About Garth

In the final scene of Act Four, Garth takes a stroll around the ship, which is badly damaged. He comes across a medical team with a dead crewmember. It’s Walker, of course. Poor kid never had a chance. His whole purpose was to die so that Garth could feel bad.

As the medics take the body away, Garth see his JOURNAL lying on the deck nearby. He picks it up, reads a bit of it.

Tanka: What’s that?

Garth: Something worth fighting for.

“It talks about how great I am and how much this dead guy liked serving with me.”

Seriously, though, I’m not entirely sure why someone’s journal would be “something worth fighting for.” The journal doesn’t even symbolize something important. Walker wasn’t writing it for a child, parent, or lover; he was just writing it in case someone out there wanted to know what it was like to serve on a starship.

Tanaka is as confused as I am.

Tanaka: Sir?

Garth: When we get back to Earth, see that this gets to Greystoke at the Starfleet News Service. He’ll know what to do with it.

Now we know how a captain so mediocre that he aspires to be average got to be a hero of Starfleet. He has someone on the inside writing flattering pieces about him.

Garth hands Tanaka the book. They continue on.

A SERIES OF SHOTS

We see Garth and Tanaka talking with CREWMEN…

I’m sure the crewmen are thrilled to have their work interrupted by the guy responsible for the mess.

with the ENGINEERS repairing a SPARKING POWER CONDUIT…

Yeah, that sounds like a job where you want to be distracted by your captain slumming it below decks.

with the WALKING WOUNDED…

But not the ones who are dying. That might be uncomfortable for our Sue.

with Blackshirts helping out as they can.

Because on ships people don’t have specific jobs in the event of emergencies.

As we see all this, we hear an entry from Walker’s journal.

Oh, good.

Walker (V.O.): We’ve been at Axanar for the better part of a day now. Word is the Klingons will be here any time. Everyone’s nervous, but that’s to be expected. We all know how important this battle will be.

Truly, these words will resonate through the ages.

(beat) I suppose all of us realize there’s a chance we won’t make it back. Most of us joined Starfleet to be explorers, but I guess sometimes you have to stand up and defend your homes, your families…the things you believe in.

His conviction is overwhelming.

I think that’s worth fighting for.

I love how the script just now, six pages from the end, tries to add deeper meaning to what has less meaning than a Transformers film. Even war movies take a position. If this movie has a position it’s “war is really cool and people do badass things like fight with knives and wrestle prisoners for information.” It’s a war movie seen through the eyes of a child.

We end on Garth speaking with INJURED CREWMEN on stretchers in the hall outside Sickbay, helping to lift their spirits.

“Helping to life their spirits” is known in novice writing circles as “I have no idea what a captain does after a fight, so I’m going to have him wander around and get in everyone’s way to remind the audience he still exists.”

I’m just going to guess here that good painkillers and prompt medical attention would do far more for those poor people than Garth acting concerned and spouting platitudes.

Later, Garth is in his quarters listening to classical music–probably Mahler for some proper angsting–with an untouched drink.

The unspecified “classical music” really highlights how much of a non-character Garth is.  He’s so poorly defined that he doesn’t even have specific music he listens to.  Colloquially, “classical music” can represent everything from Medieval to Post-modern Western art music.  That’s quite a range of styles.  Hell, if that’s too overwhelming then define him as a fan of the Classical Era.  Make him a Mozart fan, even if it’s a little obvious.  Just define it.

But, no.  The writers don’t listen to Classical music or classical music–I suspect the only time they hear it is when they accidentally pass a classical radio station while scanning through channels–so Garth can’t listen to specific classical music.  At the same time, they want to show Garth as educated and sophisticated–“classical music” means that to some people–so that’s the shorthand they use.  It’s the trappings of character and sophistication without the substance.

If there are any aspiring writers out there, don’t do this.  Audiences pick up right away on your inexperience, ignorance of a topic, and pretension.

Garth has been recording more messages to the families of his fallen crew members. Too many for one man… for one day.

If only the relationships had been set up so that the audience would care. As it stands, it feels like Farth is going through the motions, but there’s no emotion behind it. It’s completely flat.

And, really, if his messages are like the one we saw when we first met him, how taxing can it be? He can just copy/paste.

His reserves of energy have finally given out.

Because we were shown him being taxed over the past hundred pages, and slowly worn down as we approach this point. Or not.

Walker (V.O.) (cont’d): However this battle ends, there’s one thing we all know for sure: If anyone can save us – if anyone can save the Federation – it’s Captain Garth. That’s why we fight for him. It’s why we’d die for him.

Called it.

Now we know why Garth wanted that published.

This is as close to a theme as we see in this script: Garth is awesome. The only motivations or concerns other characters have are in relation to the awesomeness that is Garth. Walker is a particularly tragic example. The character was only introduced to be killed later so Garth could act like he cares about dead crewmembers. The character’s journal was only introduced so we can end this act with a little praise for the Sue. Walker doesn’t even exist outside of Garth.

I mean, SERIOUSLY?, even the dead guy has to praise Garth!

Out. Of. Control.

Resting his head in his arms on the desk…Garth is ASLEEP.

This is known as “the writer didn’t know how to gracefully exit the scene.” It’s either followed by the character going to sleep or the character being knocked unconscious. It’s a big problem in middle grade fiction books.

Bonus Post: Pastiche

We’ve finally hit the climactic moment of the script: the defeat of the D7 by Garth. Instead of seeing some brilliant new tactic, worthy of Kirk’s admiration, the audience gets a plan taken right out of two Trek films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness. In short, Garth et al. use the Wrath of Khan strategy of taking over the Klingon computer and forcing the ship to lower its shields, following it with the Into Darkness strategy of transporting an armed torpedo aboard.

This approach is not a bad thing. Indeed, pastiche is a recognized artistic style within film (and the other arts). JJ Abrams notably uses it in his films, to mixed reviews from Star Trek fans. It is also frequently used in fan works, although generally for different reasons. Whereas professionals tend to use it to increase depth or comment on a work, amateurs mix-‘n’-match as they try to cram every single thing they love about a franchise into one story. In both cases, however, the form comes from a fondness or respect for the source material.

As the Battle of Axanar draws to a close, we see pastiche in two different ways. The first, is the taking of lines from Wrath of Khan and remixing them. The second is in the melding of strategies from Wrath of Khan and Star Trek Into Darkness.

One question to ask is, is this homage or plagiarism? Outside of academia, the difference between the two is frequently subjective. Perhaps the broadest definition would be “it’s homage if it’s done well; it’s plagiarism if it’s done poorly.” More narrowly, you can separate the two by looking at how much material is taken and the context in which it’s used. For example, a scene taken nearly word-for-word (or roughly paraphrased) from the original work, which serves the same purpose in the second story that it did in the original, would be a clear case of plagiarism instead of homage. If, however, the second writer took a unique scene element, which he included in a similar, but not identical, scene of his own—using the element only to reference the other work—then it be considered homage. It’s subjective, much like Fair Use.

Axanar, I believe, falls more on the homage side of the line than the plagiarism side. The two tactics are used in an entirely different context from the ones in which they were developed, and the combining of the two is a unique presentation of them. That said, I still find it lazy writing. As I noted in the sporks, if Axanar was intended to be perceived as a part of canon, even if unofficially—and a lot of the hype really fed the idea that it would be more faithful to the ‘verse than other fan films, allowing fans to integrate it into their personal canon—then it undermines the achievements of Kirk and Spock in the future. No longer are they the great innovators; they’re just copying what they remember Garth doing at Axanar. To my mind, it would have been better had Garth come up with a plan equal to something Kirk and Spock would develop, but wholly unique to the character, place, and time. The problem is that it would require that level of creativity on the part of the writers, and that’s a hard thing to do.

The lines that are taken from Wrath of Khan, fall less obviously on the homage side of the line than the plagiarism side. Indeed, I would suggest that they are right on it. Why? Because they don’t come from the character of Kharn and the other characters, and there is too little difference in context between the original and second works.

The first lines from Wrath of Khan, are between Chang and Kharn.

Kretar REELS. There’s massive DAMAGE now. EXPLOSIONS.

Chang: My Lord, we’re losing power. We must withdraw!

Kharn: No! Cut off the enemy’s head and the body will wither. Ares must be destroyed!

Chang takes the Joachim role here, while Kharn plays—well, he plays Khan. There is no way the similarity between those two names is coincidental.

Still, despite the similarities between their names, they are not similar characters. Kharn is written as quite level headed and normal (for a Klingon). He’s not driven by the massive ego that Khan has, nor does he have the tragic backstory that makes him suicidally focused on his goals. He’s not an Ahab.

Chang, on the other hand, could be an Ahab. He’s unstable. His whole character identity is “violence before reason.” And, yet, the writers have him playing the level-headed one.

There’s no reason for this switch, which says to me that the writers really wanted to include a cool exchange from Wrath of Khan, but didn’t have a place for it. So, they jammed it in where it made no sense.

The better move would have been to have Chang give the order to keep fighting, Kharn protest, and Chang argue for the continued pursuit of the Ares. Although it would have been roughly the same as Wrath of Khan, there would have been characterization to support it. Furthermore, it would’ve opened up opportunities for the writers to add their own unique spin to the dialogue.

The second exchange is a little less similar, but still very clearly Wrath of Khan to a Trek fan.

The damage is extensive. PANELS SHORT, FIRES BURN. Kharn stands in the center of it all, with fury in his eyes.

K’Orax: My Lord, our shields are down!

Kharn: Raise them!

K’Orax: Inoperative!

It’s a far less dynamic exchange than the original, which is perhaps its greatest sin. Although there are slight differences in wording, it’s the same context—this time with K’Orax in the Joachim role—which makes it stand out as having come from Wrath of Khan.

This static exchange reveals another problem with Axanar when it’s compared to the sources of its inspiration: it focuses on the wrong things. A “writerly” way of putting it would be to say that Axanar uses summary, where it should use scenes.

For example, here’s how the audience learns about the remote-control strategy in Axanar. (The perspective is from aboard Garth’s ship.)

Arev (V.O.) (filtered): Ares, T’Val. The lead D-7 appears to be sending us a signal of some kind using its low energy shields.

Garth: A signal? On a specific frequency?

Arev (V.O.) (filtered): Yes. We are testing it now. (beat) We have penetrated the D-7’s systems. Attempting to lower shields…their shields are down.

Garth: Bless you, Corax. (thumbs the com) Alexei, now…energize! (to Cross) Helm, disengage. Get us clear!

Yeah, the whole thing happens in a phone call. Compare to the original. (It’s never a bad time to watch a scene from Wrath of Khan. The volume on that clip is loud, though, so beware.)

It’s a breathtakingly brilliant scene. If you start at the beginning, the first thing you get is the character of Kirk, his flaw for this movie on display. Admiral Kirk is rusty, and ignoring regulations despite feeling something is wrong about the encounter; Captain Kirk would never have let reliant get so close. Khan’s victory comes not from superiority, but from the superior commander’s mistake. This occurs through close to four minutes of action, reaction, and dialogue.

When Khan makes himself known, his character is on full display. It’s not enough for his ego if he wins, Kirk must also know it and acknowledge his superiority. In doing so, he reveals his weakness to Kirk: he won’t have his intelligence insulted.

Thus, Kirk is in a Kobayashi Maru scenario—a second theme for this film—and he plays his strength: he changes the rules.

The exchange plays out over ten minutes of the film. That’s the only way you have prayer of developing character and theme to that extent. In Axanar, it barley merits mention. There’s no struggle. This is Garth’s last ditch effort, and the film doesn’t develop it, preferring to spend that time on nameless waves of CGI ships blowing each other up.

The same goes for the second tactic taken from Official Trek.

This is hilarious. Abrams et al. paid homage to the Wrath of Khan scene discussed above in the Into Darkness scene, which Axanar then incorporated into it’s own Wrath of Khan reference.  It’s Wrath of Khan all the way down.

Anyway, whatever you think about Abrams’ use of pastiche, and whatever you think about Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof, they still did better with it than Axanar. Why? They made it significant.

It’s as beautiful a scene as the original, but it still pulls its weight, drawing a lot of its meaning from viewers recognizing the parallels between it and Wrath of Khan. Here, the film shows us the character of Spock instead of Kirk. He embraces technicality, as he is a Vulcan, but beyond that, he does something Kirk would have done when faced with his own Kobayashi Maru: he changes the rules.

Significance is what Axanar misses here. It has the pieces, but it’s unable to use them in a meaningful way. It makes the reference, but, unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, it doesn’t make the reference its own. That’s why the entire event takes is summarized in a page instead of developed over several minutes. In doing so, the writers of Axanar deprived themselves of the opportunity to create drama, reveal character, and illustrate theme.

To my mind, that’s a worse mistake for a fan film than a little borrowing here and there.

Sound and Fury: Terrifying Vulcan Tacticians

There are fires burning aboard Kharn’s ship. I guess the fire suppression system is out. Kharn’s pissed off, whether at the Ares or the fire, I can’t say.

Kharn: Why are we not firing?

Chang: The Ares is too close! Our sensors can’t lock on at this range.

Meta-Chang: Also, if we were to fire on Ares at this range, the energy discharge would damage our own hull, and we’re already on fire.

K’Orax is still trying to get the Federation to notice the shield frequency. Now that Ares is out of the way, she should be successful.

T’Val fires on Kharn’s ship. Aboard her, the Vulcan tactical officer—a truly frightening thought—notices the shield layer is pulsating independently of their attacks and in a prime number sequence. It’s a code.

Aboard the Ares, “things are desperate.”

There are casualties. The crew’s holding on for dear life.

I really feel their struggle.

Arev contacts them to let Garth know there’s a signal.

Garth: A signal? On a specific frequency?

That’s a good definition for signal.

Arev: (V.O.) (filtered.) Yes. We are testing it now. (beat) We have penetrated the D-7’s systems. Attempting to lower shields…their shields are down.

Now we know where Spock and Kirk got the idea.

Again, the writers are taking an idea from a better film and in doing so reducing those characters’ cleverness to mimicry of the past (if you put Axanar in the same continuity as Wrath of Khan). I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to be respectful of the great Star Trek characters the writers presumably love. Of course, it’s right in line with fan fiction, which frequently coopts cool elements from the original work and gifts them to the Author Self-Insert. After all, that’s what fan fiction is for: it’s to allow the creator to imagine him or herself in the role of the fandom hero.

Garth: Bless you, Corax. (thumbs the com) Alexei, now…energize! (to Cross) Helm, disengage. Get us clear!

Good thing Corax was right where you needed her to be instead of dead or elsewhere. You’d be pretty well screwed if she didn’t just happen to get the code to you. In other words, there’s no brilliance here, just luck.

INT. ARES – TRANSPORTER ROOM (OPTICAL)

Leonov is at the controls with the Transporter Chief.

Instead of trying to keep his severely damaged ship alive. That’s a good use of manpower, right there.

Leonov: (pushes the sliders) With pleasure, Captain.

On the platform, a PHOTON TORPEDOES (sic) DEMATERIALIZES.

I told you those Vulcan tacticians were scary.

Yes, in less than a page, this script cribs two iconic fights from Official Trek. No wonder the plan wasn’t disclosed ahead of time. The audience would’ve checked out.

Ares gets the hell out of Dodge…slowly. Meanwhile, aboard the D7 there’s considerable damage. Worse damage than previously, I guess.

K’Orax: My Lord, our shields are down!

Kharn: Raise them!

K’Orax: Inoperative!

That sounds familiar.

They’re interrupted by the explosion of the other D7.

That sounds familiar.

The Ares torpedoes materialize on Kharn’s bridge.

Kharn sees this…and knows he’s been beaten.

But then he sees something else…the pedestal beside his chair is ON FIRE. The FLAMES are licking up around his KNIFE, which has a stylized KLINGON SYMBOL on the grip. It’s his vision come true.

SYMBOLISM!

Seriously, though, I was joking about the block o’ firewood, guys. It wasn’t meant to be taken to heart. Incidentally, if someone’s painfully obvious joke unintentionally foreshadows where you’re going with a story element, rethink the element. It means that it has no good purpose outside of something silly. Here, the pedestal only existed to be stabbed with a knife and burn so that the writers could shoehorn in this bizarre vision. It’s something to look cool, but has no other value. As with so many things meant to look cool, it just comes off as silly.

Kharn: Perhaps today is a good day to die.

Of course. Can’t have Klingons in a fan film without that line, or in Official Trek, for that matter.

Anyhow, Garth hails Kharn.

Kharn: Garth of Izar. You have my compliments. I take satisfaction in knowing that the Federation sent its best to face me.

Meta-Captain April: It’s more like we sent the guy whose schedule was open.

Garth decides now is the time to play negotiator. He suggests they end the war. Kharn tells him to go ahead and destroy him.

Garth: I have a better idea. Order your ships to stand down and I’ll do the same.

I think there are a couple of things going on here. One is that Prelude put the writers in a box. Kharn had to meet a list of criteria: he had to survive Axanar; he had to be a Garth counterpart, leading the Klingon forces; and he had to be very Klingon, so unlikely to surrender. Thus, he couldn’t really be defeated by death like other Trek antagonists. Additionally, I think the writers wanted to show Garth the Compassionate or Garth the Diplomat. The result is that this scene ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Chang thinks it’s a trick and Kharn isn’t interested in a surrender.

Garth knows he must play this carefully.

I would love to see someone try to act this line that cannot be acted.

Garth proposes a cease fire so that a peace can be negotiated. You know, because Star Trek VI made it clear how easy it was for the Federation and Klingon Empire to come to a peace.

Kharn: (stunned) Why would you do this, Captain? You can destroy my fleet. The Empire would be wide open to your Starfleet.

Meta-Captain Alexander: Sequels. That’s why he’s doing it.

Garth gets all noble. It’s not exactly a Kirk speech.

Garth: And then what? The Federation invades Qo’nos? Millions more people die? We’re not conquerors, Kharn.

Well, not Klingon-style at least.

And we have no desire to burn the Empire to the ground. The galaxy’s a big place. There’s room enough for both our peoples.

Compelling.

Anyway, Kharn is seriously considering this and Chang is a strong advocate against agreement.

Chang: There can be no peace with the Federation! Not now…not ever!

I’m still not seeing Chang’s motivation here, other than the writers wanted to do something to associate this Chang with the one in Undiscovered Country.

Kharn snaps. He BACKHANDS CHANG IN THE FACE, knocking him back into his console. Chang slumps to the deck as Kharn stands over him.

Kharn: It’s over! There is no honor in placing revenge before the fate of the Empire!

Because “honor” is the driving motivation of Klingons, not protecting their families or culture.  No, it’s all honor all the time.

Chang is shamed…to stunned to respond.

I think he’s more bewildered.

Kharn tells Garth that the Klingons will stand down while he contacts the High Council.

Garth: As will ours. You’ll forgive me if we don’t power down our weapons until we have your Council’s word.

I think Garth doesn’t quite understand what “stand down” means. Fortunately, Kharn is agreeable. The torpedo next to his chair probably helps.

Garth sits back in his chair, wearily.

Imagine how the people who have been fighting from the beginning of the battle feel.

Relief is visible on everyone’s faces. Tanaka walks over to stand beside him.

Tanaka: Well played, Captain.

Garth: That’s Fleet Captain to you, Mister.

Meta-Captain Alexander: I told you, he likes that.

Ajax tells Ares that they’ve found survivors from Hercules, Travis among them. He’s critically injured. I wonder if he’ll enjoy fighting quite so much in the future?

 

Tomorrow, we’ll take a breather with an in-depth look at the craft as it relates to this climactic sequence. I’ll also post a short spork.

Sound and Fury: The Active Captain Alexander

INT. AJAX – BRIDGE

Alexander: SAM!

DRAMA! I don’t know about you, but I really feel their connection through this Big No.  You know, Kate Vernon is a pretty solid actor. She probably could’ve said more with an expression than a line.

In any case, the Ajax tactical officer, who isn’t important enough to get a name, works out what no one aboard the Ares has: that the D7s are only targeting the Ares class.

A look of pure rage sets in on Sonya’s face.

Captain Alexander is the only character not consistently described by her last name. She flips between “Sonya” and “Alexander” throughout the script. The male characters are all “Lastname.” It’s noticeably odd by this point.

Alexander: (to com) All hand, evacuate forward sections. Emergency power to structural integrity. (cold, to helm) Set a course for that D-7.

Meta-Captain Alexander: This is my favorite part. It’s almost true.

Aboard Ares, Tanaka reports that Ajax is on a collision course with the D-7.

Garth: (stunned, to com): Sonya, what are you doing?

Meta-Captain Alexander: Something you don’t have the cojones for.

I don’t actually mind the first name here. I think it adds a little poignancy to the moment. The trick is to use your words deliberately so that you don’t distract your audience. It’s a distraction when one character isn’t referenced in the same way as equivalent characters. Eliminate the distractions and deliberate changes carry more punch.

Alexander (V.O) (filtered): Thinking on my feet, Ares. We’ve got to stop these D-7s somehow.

I love it. The script has told us a couple of times that Garth Sue was “thinking on his feet” with respect to one thing or another, yet we never actually saw him think on his feet. Here we have a supporting character who is actually thinking on her feet. In doing so, she completely upstages the protagonist. While it’s great that the female captain is getting a chance to do something awesome that grows out of her character and circumstances, Garth is supposed to be the one doing this. It should be Garth who realizes the Ares class is under attack and Garth should be the one to jump in to protect his fellow captains. It would’ve been a very Kirk-like trait for him. Yet, Garth is still on the sidelines, watching.

INT. AJAX – BRIDGE

Sonya’s Bridge crew is calm now. They know what’s coming.

Ajax tactical officer: (nods gravely)The forward saucer is clear…structural integrity’s at maximum

Alexander: (steeling herself) Full impulse. Fire all phasers.

I think we’ve found the most professional crew in Starfleet. I also think we’ve found the character whose story the writers really want to tell.

The Ajax charges the D7, firing on the neck right behind the bridge. She slams into it, severing the bridge and destroying the ship.

Aboard Kharn’s ship, “Kharn stands, stunned by this new Federation tactic.”

That would be worthy of surprise.

Garth and his crew are equally stunned.

Think about how much more natural this is than a crew standing around in admiration at the beginning of the screenplay. Captain Alexander did something that wouldn’t occur to anyone with a healthy sense of self-preservation, and she pulled it off. That’ll require a moment to process.

Ajax survived the collision, but is out of the fight. That leaves Captain Arev to sort out the shield frequency. Meanwhile, Robau is in a spot of trouble.

Robau appears on the VIEWSCREEN. His Bridge is in chaos.

Like all the others.

Robau (urgent): We can’t hold the flank much longer, Ares.

Garth: Rick…I don’t have any more ships to send you.

If only the majority of the exchanges in this monster had the power of this one. Nice job, writers.

So, Third Squadron is dying. Crazy Horse blows up. Ares is continuing to watch. It’s hard to say if she’s fighting at all. The bridge isn’t shaking, so I’ll take that as a no.

More ships are coming in! This time they’re approaching from Earth.

Yup, here comes Enterprise to save the day.

Meta-Captain April: As usual.

The Enterprise still doesn’t have a warp drive, so it got a tow from the Vulcans. I guess Soval sorted out the High Council.

INT. ENTERPRISE – BRIDGE

Captain April sits in his chair, his crew ready for action.

Meta-Captain April: It’s a big chair.

Anyway, they’re going to join the Third. The D6s don’t stand a chance. Geronimo uses countermeasures to get the D7’s torpedoes to destroy another D6. At the same time, the Vulcan ships are backing up the T’Val, which is still looking for the shield frequency.

Aboard Kharn’s ship, K’Orax is checking out a display that shows the shield frequency. Shields are still holding, so the D7 is still in good shape, leaving Kharn to focus on Enterprise. Chang reports that it is a Constitution class and that it is stronger than the D6s. That’s all the time they have for that, however, as they have finally figured out which ship is coordinating this Charlie-Foxtrot.

Kharn: The Izarian! Helm new course – make for the Ares. Target and fire.

Took ‘em long enough. I wondered if they figured it out from all of the radio transmissions from Ares or if they looked for which ship wasn’t interested in getting in on the action?

Kharn’s ship heads for Ares, firing, other ships are being destroyed around it. There are still a couple of surviving shuttles, remarkably enough. I’d kind of like to see the battle from their perspective. Talk about courage.

Kumari sees Ares under attack and Trask orders all the ships to protect it. In other words, Garth is the king in this game of chess: important and useless. (You know, if you’re important enough to the outcome of the battle that everyone is going to drop what they’re doing to protect you, you screwed up somewhere. At this point, the Federation ships are moving from offense to defense, which is a whole ‘nother ball game.)

Despite being shot at by the D7, Ares is still in good shape. Tanka figures out the D7 is Kharn’s, which gets some unspecified reaction from Garth.

Aboard Kharn’s ship, Kharn is getting impatient.

Kharn: Report! Why have we not yet destroyed the Ares?

Because she was outfitted with Plot Armor earlier.

K’Orax reports the targeting sensors aren’t working, so Kharn orders another ship to take over the attack. K’Orax tries to signal the shield frequency, but it’s not yet time for the dramatic climax so her efforts are fruitless.

Ares is under attack from both D7s, but the Plot Armor is holding. Ares is getting in some good shots and Kharn’s ship is taking heavy damage. Lots of explosions.

Chang: My Lord, we’re losing power. We must withdraw!

Kharn: No! Cut off the enemy’s head and the body will wither. Ares must be destroyed!

I never figured Kharn would go all Khan on us, but I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Aboard Ares, the Klingon’s Drama Phasers are beginning to overwhelm the Plot Armor. The ship’s failing and helm’s down.

Thinking fast, Garth gets an idea.

It’s too bad I don’t get to see someone try to act this.

He stands, approaches Cross’ station and points at the Astrogator.

So…he points at the pilot? Research, people, research.

He orders Cross to use maneuvering thrusters to roll Ares to a particular location.

Cross (stunned): Sir?

Garth: Just do it!

And, we’re back to false drama. When your ship is actively dying, you’re not going to take a moment to be confused about an order. You’re going to trust the CO and do it.

So Ares rolls beneath Kharn’s ship and uses its tractor being to hold on.

Tanaka: The tractor beam is holding.

This would probably work better if Garth had ordered them to “standby, tractor beam” so that the audience could anticipate something involving a tractor beam holding. It’s very sloppy work, only made more noticeable by how precisely drawn Captain Alexander’s scene was.

Anyway, the Klingons have stopped shooting at Ares for the time being.

Alas.

 

Sound and Fury: Part Four

Chang is shocked, shocked, that that the dockyard didn’t blow up.

Chang: (stunned) The targets—they’re breaking up. How can this be?

He’s a few rounds short of a broadside, isn’t he? This is not the younger counterpart of the Chang we saw in Star Trek VI. I’d be hard-pressed to see him as the same character we saw in the opening scene of this screenplay. The reason for this is because this isn’t Chang’s line; it’s the writers’. They fear the audience won’t understand what’s happening unless it’s told, so they have to make one character stupid for another character to explain it. There are so many better ways to draw subtle attention to what happened without it being so on-the-nose. For example, one could have Kharn say “decoys” and follow by giving orders to look out for more Federation ships. Instead, we get this.

Kharn: (seething) They’re not real, you fool. This was a trap. Their new ships were never being built at Axanar.

I like to think Kharn is talking more about himself than Chang here. It sure reads like an inner monologue instead of what someone would actually say in the middle of a heated battle.

Another Klingon officer announces that there are more Federation ships coming from behind the planet.

I bet Kharn wishes he’d thought of scouts.

Kharn: Deceit upon deception.

We’ll just assume that Kharn has a poor grasp of English, or that it doesn’t translate well from the Klingon. Those are the most generous explanations for such a painful line.

Perhaps the Humans are worthy adversaries.

In other words, Garth is so awesome even the most awesome Klingon is impressed by him. Not that he’s done anything to deserve it. The only reason his plan is working is because the writers decided to conveniently forget that any experienced leader would scout out the area before committing to an attack. Oddly enough, they don’t like surprises.

The bridge shakes, but the shields are still holding, and Kharn orders all of his ships to attack all of Garth’s ships. I’d say we’re coming to the end of this thing, but this battle still has another fifteen pages to run.

Fifteen pages.

Each page equals roughly a minute of screen time. This battle runs close to thirty, or over a quarter of the total run time.

That’s this story: Either Garth is being praised or we get a lot of boom-boom (where Garth gets to show average intelligence at the expense of the other characters).

EXT. SPACE – ARES AND 1st & 2nd SQUADRONS (OPTICAL)

emerge into SUNLIGHT from around the planet and ENGAGE THE KLINGONS, making the current dogfight EVEN LARGER.

Because in film bigger is automatically better and more epic instead of a confusing, boring mess, right?

Aboard Ares, the bridge shakes. There’s non-critical damage. Garth orders Ajax and T’Val to start looking for a weak spot in the D7 shields. The bridge shakes again. Seeing it spelled out really highlights how weak of a device it is for generating tension. All I’m thinking is, “Starfleet engineers really need to get a handle on those vibrations. It really ups the required maintenance.”

So, Ajax and T’Val take off. We get two quick shots, one of Captain Alexander asking if T’Val is “with[her]” and a response of Captain Arev saying that they “are ‘on [her] six.’” I’m sure Vulcans always practice their use of 20th century Earth military slang when precision is absolutely vital.

Really, there was no reason for Alexander to ask if T’Val was there. The writers just wanted to throw in a little more military flavor to try and lend this script credibility.

The two ships make a run on Kharn’s ship and a D6 explodes in the background.

Aboard Kharn’s ship, there’s no damage. They’ve lost eleven ships, though.

Kharn: Order all wings to concentrate fire on the Ares class.

Ah, yes. Those ships for exploration that were named after the Greek god of war. I’m sure Garth did a lot of charting, scientific surveys, and diplomatic missions with his warship, which is so awesome it’s the first of its class.

The D7 and a couple of Klingon ships are firing on the Kumari—because I’m sure everyone remembers each of the secondary ships, right?—and it’s in trouble. Fortunately, the Gral is backing her up. The Gral targets the D6s and destroys one of them, but it gets hit by shots from the D7. It blows up.

I’m sure the loss of the Tellerite ship has resonated as emotionally with you as it did with me. As in not at all.

INT. ARES – BRIDGE

LIGHT from the Gral’s destruction flickers across the Bridge.

Hyree: Gral is gone, Captain! Robinson and Komarov are also down. We’ve lost eventeen ships!

Eh, you’ve got another eighty-three or so. No biggie.

Garth sends a couple more ships to protect the Kumari—it sure would’ve been helpful if he’d gotten on that sooner rather than put two of his ships up against D6s and the D7s, but everyone makes mistakes—and tells Ajax and T’Val that they need the shield frequency.

Alexander (V.O) (filtered): We’re doing out (sic) best, Kel…

Not Fleet Captain? He appears to have dropped in status here. I like to imagine it’s because her ship is getting hammered; she’s knows her job and is working on it; and Fleet Captain Useless keeps yapping in her ear while she tries to focus. She’s probably ready to murder him.

Meta-Captain Alexander: No one would ever know.

Aboard the T’Val, Arev is even more to the point.

Arev: Patience is required, Fleet Captain. It takes time to isolate the correct resonance frequency.

I imagine this line is said with that perfect, biting sarcasm Vulcan’s are known for.

Garth tells them they don’t have much time and so on.

Ajax and T’Val keep firing on Kharn’s ship.

Kharn’s ship is rocking from the hits. The Klingon officer, Voth, notices that the frequency of the pulse phasers is changing. Before he can alert Kharn to the Federation plan, K’Orax knifes him, using an explosion as cover. No one notices, remarkably.

Kharn orders her to take his place and returns his focus to Chang, who announces that more Klingon ships are entering the system.

Because when even the writer is getting bored with the battle, the solution is to add more CGI ships. Just make it bigger, that’ll fix everything.

Kharn: (smiles): Krom’s Battle Wing arrives. Now we shall see how the Federation likes Klingon deception.

Uh-huh. You’re asking me to believe that Kharn anticipated something going down to the point he had reserves waiting to join the battle, but he didn’t think to check out the far side of the moon and planet? These guys aren’t even playing checkers. Tic-tac-toe, maybe.

Aboard the Ares, the crew notices the incoming Klingons. Garth hails Geronimo.

Garth: Rick, there’s another Klingon Battle Wing coming your way.

Robau: We see them. When they get here, they’ll catch us in a helluva nasty cross fire.

I love it. Garth is supposed to be the genius, but he calls up Robau to tell him something he already knows, and Robau is the one to point out the problem. All Garth does is tell Robau that he’s sending Allegiance and Perseus to back him up and say, “I need you to hold them off until we’ve dealt with the main fleet.”

Oh, that’ll be a walk in the park. What happens if they don’t hold off the incoming ships, Fleet Captain, sir?

Oh, hey, and there’s an unanticipated D7 with the incoming ships. Either they got one into service in a hurry, or the Klingon captive lied. I like the latter interpretation.

Garth: A third D-7? (to com, urgently) Sonya, Arev…we need that shield frequency now.

Didn’t plan for that, did you, genius?

Alas, Arev and Alexander are coming up short. As is time for another one of the expendable ships whose only purpose is to die for a dramatic, but utterly meaningless, moment. Yes, Hercules is being fired upon by the D7.

INT. HERCULES – BRIDGE

The Bride is in CHAOS. There’s heavy damage, FIRES, BODIES.

Travis: Evasive! Target that D-7’s Bridge – fire everything!

Is he still laughing and smiling, I wonder?

Anyway, the ship isn’t responding to helm and the sensors aren’t working.

It blows up. Goodbye, Captain Psychopath. I hope that battle was as fun for you at the end as it was in the beginning.

Sound and Fury: Part Three

Aboard Geronimo, Logan tells Robau what we just saw: that the 4th Squadron is fighting the Klingons. Robau orders him to launch shuttles. I hope they’re more robust than the standard Trek shuttle, which was—as with everything else in Starfleet—clearly built by the lowest bidder. An impressive feat in a moneyless society.

So, the ship’s in Robau’s group launch shuttles. They’re equipped with “electronic warfare pods.” Of course, because this tech has never been shown to the audience (or described before), the audience isn’t going to know what those are. Just imagine Raptors from BSG and you’ll probably be close.

Aboard Kharn’s ship, “the crew is busy in action.” Given the lack of specificity, I’m going to just assume they’re running around, waving their hands in the air. Also, to let the audience know they’re still fighting, “the bridge rocks occasionally.”

There’s damage to the tech, but it has no effect. I’m sure it’s meant to heighten the feeling that the ships are fighting for their lives, but, like with the rocking bridge, it’s just for show. It has about the same effect as torpedoes on Plot Armor: none.

Chang reports the arrival of “ships,” presumably the shuttles are creating a sensor image of a bigger vessel. Kharn smiles. He has apparently predicted this.

I don’t buy it. The writers want him to be viewed as some sort of battle master who can see the moves of his enemies, but he doesn’t do one thing that would make sense: send a scout to check out what’s going on behind the moon. Also, send a scout to check out what may be happening on the other side of the planet. Cavalry exists for a reason. (Let’s face it. Despite all of the tech, this battle is straight out of the 19th century. It’s two-dimensional.)

We jump over to the bridge of the lead D6 in Battle Wing Two, where Klingon General #1 commands. Why he doesn’t get a name when every other single-line character does escapes me. We even saw him way back at the beginning of the script.

At least he isn’t described as being “in the big chair.” It’s just a command chair.

Kharn orders him over the radio to attack the squadron near the moon.

Klingon General #1: At once, My Lord. We will destroy them for the Empire.

I’m sure you’ll die trying.

This little scene was entirely pointless. He’s a no-name character we have no interest in or attachment to whose scene does nothing to advance character or story. He’s a walking Klingon cliché. The writers could easily have stayed with Kharn’s ship and had KG #1’s voice over the radio. That would also have saved them some effort redressing the set.

So Battle Wing Two heads towards Axanar’s moon. Have you lost the thread of the battle yet? I have.

Back behind Axanar, Ares is still hanging out with the other ships. It’s the same shot from the opening of Act Four.

Seriously.

Scene 123, page 69

EXT. SPACE – THE ARES (OPTICAL)

holds position behind Axanar. Nearby are the Ajax, T’Val, Kumari, and Gral. Beyond them, FIFTY-NINE OTHER SHIPS hold formation in three squadron groups.

Scene 151, page 76

EXT. SPACE – THE ARES (OPTICAL)

holding behind Axanar with Ajax, T’Val, Kumari, Gral, and the fifty-nine ships of 1st and 2nd Squadrons and the Vulcans.

Thrifty.

Aboard Ares, Wagner reports that the Klingons have gone off chasing shuttles.

Garth: (thumbs the com) Captain Robau, it looks like second time’s the charm. Our friends have taken the bait.

This is what happens when a writer doesn’t pay attention to how people actually speak, and how their speech changes based on circumstances. Sentences end up long and clunky.

Robau (V.O.) (amused, filtered): Well, it’s very good bait.

I like to think he’s amused at Garth thinking he’s said something amusing. That line wasn’t funny.

Garth: Let them get close and then bite them in the ass.

It’s not exactly (the apocryphal) “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” is it? The problem is that Garth has to appear to be directing the battle, but there really isn’t anything for him to direct. All he can do is say ridiculous lines that are supposed to make him sound like a leader who will be remembered for all time. They don’t.

INT. GERONIMO – BRIDGE

Robau: You heard the Fleet Captain.

Meta-Captain Alexander: Yeah, call him “Fleet Captain.” He likes that.

It’s such a gratuitous little mention of his position, and probably more syllables than a person getting ready to fight would say.

Full power to systems. It’s time to go. (to his com) Geronimo to 3rd Squad. Follow us in. Weapons hold for my mark.

Oh, so the squadron was powered down behind the moon. Yeah, that should’ve been more clearly established earlier. It’s a good thing to trust your audience’s intelligence; you don’t have to spell everything out for them. At the same time, you don’t want to create confusing conditions where you only explain things after the audience needs to know them to follow the story.

This poor script is so backwards. Trivial things are expounded upon while important things are forgotten.

We get a space shot of the 3rd Squadron powering up and another of the Klingons approaching the moon.

Aboard the D6, KG #1 realizes the shuttles aren’t starships. Man, if only they’d sent out scouts. The D6 Weapons Officer, who, as best as I can tell, appeared out of nowhere due to the lack of introduction for him in the scene description, protests that “sensors read a full squadron of Federation ships.”

Klingon General #1: They are only shuttles. You’ve been deceived.

More lovely leadership on display, this time from the Klingon side. KG #1 didn’t do his due diligence and he’s blaming it on an underling. He must be a real joy to serve under.

Meta-D6 Weapons Officer: We’ve all put in for transfers to Rura Penthe.

“Whom Gods Destroy” never mentioned that Axanar was the battle of the incompetents.

D-6 Weapons Officer: (confused) Now reading new targets behind us. Twenty-four more starships.

Klingon General #1: (angry) Well, are they real or not?!

I bet he’s wishing the Klingons had scouted out the area, particularly given that Kharn anticipated shenanigans of some sort. Of course, that would’ve made things uncomfortable for Garth and difficult for the writers.

KG #1 is answered by the old shake ‘n’ spark. Yawn.

Geronimo and its squadron fire everything and destroy two ships right off the bat. It turns into a dogfight—or would that be “furball”? Even the shuttles get in on the action, because they were totally designed for that.

Garth is still sitting on his ass, watching the show. He’s very much a “lead from the back” sort of commander, isn’t he?

Finally, though, he asks if his squadrons are ready to fight. Here, we get the customary scene where everyone stands up and commits to the fight.

INT. KUMARI – BRIDGE

Trask: Kumari stands ready, Ares.

INT. GRAL – BRIDGE

Naarv: Gral is ready. Let’s get our hooves in the mud.

Love it.

INT. T’VAL – BRIDGE

Arev: Vulcan forces await your command, Ares.

INT. AJAX – BRIDGE

Garth (V.O.) (filtered): What about you, Sonya?

Because even in the ideal future of Star Trek, a woman can be expected to be addressed by her first name instead of her rank and last name.

To be fair, Garth does call Robau “Rick” earlier in the battle, which is somewhat confusing because he’s not labeled as “Rick” in the script and only referred to as such a couple of times. The reason why I’m remarking on this informality here, is because it breaks the flow of the sequence. The disruption draws one’s eye straight to the inappropriate casualness of the address.

Alexander: I thought you’d never ask, Fleet Captain.

Just stroke that ego a little more.

Meta-Captain Alexander: If you stroke it, it gets bigger.

Meta-Captain April: That’s not the only thing of his that gets bigger.

So, Ares et al. finally get a move on.

Meanwhile, the Klingons and 4th Squadron—abbreviated as “squad” in the script, which is not the same thing as a “squadron”. It’s like the writers don’t know what the internet is. (Also, it’s a consistent error. It’s clearly not a typo.)

Aboard Kharn’s ship—I’m not bothering to use the name because no one cares—“the Bridge SHAKES. Crewmen are in action.” Probably just doing the same thing they were doing earlier.

Chang gives Kharn an update on the battle; it’s not going great for Wing Two. Kharn tells his shops to open fire on the space docks.

So, the Klingon ships fire on the space docks. The space docks and ships don’t explode; the break apart.

That was the big plan for which Garth was so admired: decoys.

And that’s the problem with trying to show a character who is the best ever at X when the writers are not.

Sound and Fury: Part Two

Aboard Hercules, a Lieutenant Gates announces the incoming torpedoes. Travis orders that the counter measures be handled by a computer.

EXT. SPACE – 4th SQUADRON (OPTICAL)

launches INTERCEPTORS. Most of the incoming torpedoes are DESTROYED. A DOZEN get through and lock onto the starships, which MANEUVER and drop COUNTERMEASURES. The torpedoes score a few HITS, then the starships regroup.

I know the writers mean for all of this to be thrilling and epic, but it’s just dull. It’s so dull.

Back aboard the Hercules, we learn that eight ships were hit with minor damage and that two Battle Wings are closing.

Travis: Kharn’s crafty, I’ll give him that.

Firing a ton of torpedoes at warp is crafty? We’re really lowing the bar here. Anyway, Travis orders his squadron to fire on the Klingons when they’re in range. He needs to make it sound a military-y, though, so he tells them, “Weapons free.” Travis must’ve joined Starfleet after a career with the Colonial Fleet.

Yes, it’s actually a part of the modern brevity code, but it’s decidedly strange to hear in a Star Trek battle scene. When you combine it with things like the Jovian scene and the tactics on display, I’d hazard a guess that Battlestar Galactica was influential on the writers. Whether conscious or subconscious, I can’t really say.

And that’s cool! Fan fiction has a long tradition of drawing on elements from other fandoms. The most extreme are fandom crossovers, but it’s certainly not unheard of for cool things from one fandom to be tweaked and dropped into another. In this case, were the script more polished, the addition of BSG-style tactics would be a unique variation on what we’re accustomed to seeing from Trek fan films.

Aboard the Ares, Garth is watching the show. At least, I think he is. There’s no description. We jump from the slugline to dialogue. Hyree tells Garth the 4th Squadron is doing fine, and Garth asks tosee the 3rd.

The Bridge TACTICAL DISPLAY pans over from 4th SQUADRON to an ICON marking #rd SQUADRON, hiding behind Axanar’s moon.

I know you can hardly contain your excitement.

Garth opens a channel to Geronimo and orders them to launch decoys as soon as the Klingon ships enter the 3rd Squadron’s phaser range. Give it up, script. The audience lost the plot some time ago.

Off the 3rd SQUADRON and GERONIMO ICONS on the display…

To be fair, the display-space shot-bridge scene sequence is a decent way of keeping track of what’s going on. The only problem is that it better suits a documentary style than a narrative one. The constant repetition, with only variations in cast, mean that the ships and squadrons will run together very quickly. It becomes a huge muddle in the audience’s mind. Once it’s a muddle, they’ll lose interest.

Anyway, described in much the same way as the 4th Squadron, the 3rd Squadron is lurking behind Axanar’s moon. They’re all “running dark” because the biggest thing to worry about in a space battle augmented by computers and powerful sensors is a Klingon looking out the window and seeing lights.

I can see the external visual being used to mean the ships are powered down as much as possible, such as in “Balance of Terror,” but it would have to be reinforced by the description of low power on the bridge and an order for the ship to power up before fighting.

Guess what we don’t get?

If you guessed “a description of low power on the bridge and an order to power up before fighting,” you guessed right!

I swear there was copy/pasting going on, if not physical then mental. Look at this:

Scene 127, p. 71

INT. HERCULES – BRIDGE

Travis is in the big chair. LIEUTENANT JACKSON mans Coms.

Scene 138, p. 74

INT. GERONIMO – BRIDGE

Robau’s in the big chair. LIEUTENANT LOGAN mans Tactical.

If you’re ever writing a script and you find yourself repeating like this, it’s a sign you’ve got interchangeable locations/characters/what-have-you. If they’re interchangeable, they’re probably not important to the story. Edit, edit, edit.

At least there’s a little variation. Completely unmemorable Lt. Logan gets to speak before Robau. (He reports on the Klingon’s position.)

So, Robau orders the decoys launched and we get a space shot of Geronimo and Crazy Horse launching TWO DOZEN SMALL SENSOR DECOYS, which take off around the side of the moon.

The Klingons close in on the space docks. Variation!

Aboard Kharn’s ship, Chang tells Kharn that the Federation ships are going to attack.

Kharn: (impressed) Their technology has improved.

If Space! Chaff amounts to an improvement in technology, I shudder to think of what the Federation was fighting with at the beginning of the war. Did they borrow some cannon from a maritime museum so they could fire broadsides? God, I hope not. Otherwise we’ll find out it was really Garth who worked out how to “cross the T.”

Just as Kharn gives order to lock disruptors onto…something…Chang shouts, “My Lord, twenty-four ships have appeared from behind Axanar’s moon!” I never would’ve guessed he was agitated without that exclamation point.

Kharn orders him to do nothing, recognizing instantly that they’re decoys. He starts describing the Federation battle plan when he is once again interrupted in true Star Trek style.

The Bride ROCKS. A panel BLOWS OUT nearby.

On Galactica, they knew what a fuse was. If there’s anything to import from that ‘verse, import fuses.

One of the consistent idiosyncracies in this script is that characters aren’t allowed to finish thoughts. They’re always interrupted by someone bring DRAMATIC news or a red alert or, in this case, something important blowing up (unless, like Starfleet, the Klingons keep useless panels around just to blow up DRAMATICALLY). It’s a sign of the writers’ inexperience. Constant interruptions don’t generate tension; they draw attention to the writer’s weakness at developing complete tension-filled scenes. Oh, sure, you can have a couple of interruptions in a script. Frequent interruptions, however, breaks willing suspension of disbelief. You half expect the character to comment on it.

Voth: Sir, the Federation squadron has opened fire.

I’m going to guess Kharn worked that part out when his ship did the shake ‘n’ spark.

There’s a shot of the 4th Squadron firing on the Klingons.

Aboard the Hercules, we get some of that Star Trek banter.

Gates: I think we’ve got their attention, sir.

Travis: I’ll bet. Continuous fire. Let’s see how the Undying One likes a smack in the jaw.

Gates: They’re returning fire.

It sounded much better in the writer’s head when he scribbled it in the back of his notebook during 4th period English.

The Bridge SHAKES. Travis smiles and laughs, in his element.

Psychopath. If Travis is smiling and laughing while in a fight for his life, he’s probably not fit to command a starship. Even if he is, I can’t imagine his crew is too enthusiastic to serve under a “today is a good day to die” sort of captain.

Meta-Lieutenant Gates: We all put in for transfers to Enterprise.

Also, let me say it again, a little louder. WAR IS NOT A GAME.  If you want to show a character that smiles and laughs during a battle, great! Go right a head. Just recognize that puts the character in a gray area, at best.  He’s either someone who’s unbalanced, has a questionable moral code, or is painfully naive.  It’s the kind of thing that sounds badass when you’re twelve, but adults should know better.

 

Sound and Fury: Part One

Three times. That’s how many times I’ve deleted and rewritten this post. Despite this being the climactic part of the film, it lacks substance. There’s just not much to say. It’s busy but as with so much of this script, it’s sound and fury. In other words, I may be summarizing whole pages instead of short exchanges.

Act Four opens with Ares, Ajax, T’Val, Kumari, Gral, and fifty-nine other ships lurking behind Axanar in “three squadron groups.” Although here it’s just direction for Tobias, scripts should aim for compelling description. Writers also need to be aware that non-significant vessels will have the same problem as named, non-significant characters: they all run together. Outside of Ajax and Ares, the viewers have no idea who the ships are so T’Val, Kumari, and Gral may as well be part of the fifty-nine ships included to make the battle look impressive and blow up dramatically.

It’s concerning.

It’s concerning because it suggests that the writers are about to take this story into an epic battle sequence with no real understanding of what makes those sequences epic in film. Here’s a hint: It’s not about the number of ships or the maneuvers—all of that is background; it’s about the relationships between the people. I’m not a combat veteran, and I never served in the military, but I’ve heard it said that you don’t fight for a country, you fight for the person next to you. I suspect it’s true. It’s certainly true in fiction, which depends on our interest in characters and their relationships to generate tension.

Garth is back in his quarters looking at a tactical display of what we just saw. It has labels so we know which of the interchangeable squadrons we’re watching. If anyone cares, it’s the 1st Squadron, 2nd Squadron, and a Vulcan squadron.

Garth sits at his desk. Thinking about it, he’s a stunningly passive character for being the protagonist. He’s passive in the story sense: he doesn’t make choices that drive the story. He just reacts to what happens around him. He’s also very passive in the physical sense. He looks at his environment instead of interacting with it, and when he does interact it’s purposeless.

Tanka enters and asks Garth if he’s sure the Klingons are coming; it’s been seventeen hours with no sign of them. Of course, Garth is sure. Starfleet gave the Klingons false intelligence to draw them to Axanar and “Kharn can’t afford not to bite.”

He probably could. One of the problems with writing your story so that the Bag Guy has the Good Guys backs against the wall is that it puts the Bad Guy in the position of controlling when and where they meet. I suppose one could argue that Kharn thinks he’s in a worse position than he is as a result of that false intelligence, but with so little of the story focused on Kharn we have no real reason to believe it other than we’re told that the Klingons must attack Axanar. Again, the characters are acting more like puppets than people.

The opening question was more cover for Tanka; he’s really concerned about Corax. Indeed, he shows more concern for her than Garth.

Garth: I’ve known her a long time.

It can’t be much longer than a decade or he knew her as a young teen, assuming her species develops at roughly the same rate as ours. The alternative is that she’s not a particularly bright or driven officer and just can’t make it past lieutenant. It could go either way with this script. The writers really should’ve made her a higher rank.

She’s uniquely capable.

I’m sure shapeshifting is a useful ability if the ship blows up.

It’s the Klingons who should be worried.

This little bit of bravado could signal an interesting internal conflict if Garth were concerned about Corax and trying not to show it. There’s precious little here that could show such internal conflict, however, and I fear it was designed to be played straight like the other scenes. I won’t hammer on it too much because a strong actor could really assist the writers through delivery.

Tanka asks if Garth is still going over the battle plan. He is.

Garth: I’m concerned about Sam and Rick. I’ve laid them both way out on the line on this one.

The audience would love to be concerned about Sam and Rick as well, but we don’t know them. We don’t know what their relationship with Garth is.

That’s the problem with this scene: it lacks the foundation that can give it meaning as it is, and it lacks the depth that could give it meaning with a weaker foundation. It’s a sketch of a scene. As a sketch, it doesn’t develop the relationships between the characters that would allow us to care about their upcoming struggle.

As a sketch, it’s quickly interrupted by a red alert and call to battle stations.

Garth was right, of course: the Klingons are coming. There are “eight-one ships incoming at high warp,” “bearing two-five-four relative.” Thrilling.

Tanaka: (pleased, at his station): There’s your three Battle Wings.

I’m pretty damn sure that “pleased” would not be my reaction at this point in time. It’s one of those things that’s cool in a writer’s head, but makes no sense on the page. It doesn’t work if you’re aiming for realism.

Everyone in the fleet is ready to fight, as is Ares.

Garth: Good work, everyone. Here we go. (beat, to himself) You’re up, Sam.

I hope he’s not planning to call the whole battle. That would kill what little tension there might be.

In fiction, there are two ways to structure battles. The first is to show or explain how the battle is supposed to go. The joy for the audience is to then see how everything goes wrong, and how the heroes fix it. The second is to keep the battle plans very vague so the audience can enjoy seeing it unfold alongside the heroes. It looks like Axanar is aiming for the latter.

Garth glances at the LARGE TACTICAL DISPLAY on the right side of the Bridge. It shows Ares and its ships behind Axanar, and the approaching Klingons. IN between, on the other side of Axanar, we see ICONS representing HERCULES and 4th SQUADRON.

Here’s another reason why successful war films focus on characters over tactics: it’s really hard to follow the tactics in a narrative film. If you’re watching a documentary and a narrator is walking you through the battle with little graphics, that’s fine. The form just doesn’t carry over well to narrative. The constant jumping back and forth between graphic overview and personal drama would kill the tension of the latter and render the former too confusing to be useful. If tactics are important in narrative film, use the first structure: lay it out beforehand and let it go wrong. (That’s how Star Wars did it.)

From the tactical display, we jump to the Hercules in space with twenty-three starships (4th Squadron) and three space docks with half-built Connies.

Jump to the Hercules bridge, where Travis is in command. If you don’t remember him, that’s OK. We met him briefly back on page seven and again on sixty-four. He’s really only here to make the battle look big. There’s a LIEUTENANT JACKSON as Communications Officer. His name hardly matters. We’ve never met him before and he only has one line: “Aye, sir.”

Travis: All right, people. We’re all that stands between the Klingons and those space docks. (beat) Mister Jackson, relay to Squadron: Defensive pattern Delta. Let’s make them think we’re surprised.

I don’t know about y’all, but the think I love best about Trek battles are the randomly shouted maneuvers that mean exactly nothing to me.

On Travis’ TACTICAL DISPLAY we see the KLINGONS closing in.

Please tell me this isn’t going to continue for the next thirty pages. I don’t think I can handle the bouncing from tactical display, to space SFX shot, to bridge shot for thirty whole pages. The only way it could be more excruciating is if the scenes on the Klingon ships paralleled the scenes on the Federation ships.

The display gives way to a space shot of the approaching Klingon fleet. There are eighty-one of them—I’m not sure why the precise number is so important. It’s not like anyone in the audience will be counting. Two D-7s are with them. I guess Erok couldn’t get rid of the Idiot Ball before he lost to Captain Alexander. How much cooler would it have been if there had been an extra couple of D7s that the Federation hadn’t anticipated? That would immediately raise the stakes and the tension.

Next we go to the bridge of Kharn’s D7.

Kharn’s in his chair, gripping his blade, which is stuck in its pedestal beside him

It’s nice to know that the Klingons had their priorities straight when Kharn transferred from one ship to another. God forbid they leave the block o’ firewood behind. Seriously. Does that thing have a purpose other than to stab a knife into?

This is one of the reasons writers need to use common sense instead of fixating on what they think looks cool. A wood pedestal with no real function makes no sense on the bridge of a warship. It takes up space; it impedes movement; and it can turn into shrapnel/splinters if the bridge is shot. You don’t want a bridge cluttered with useless objects.

Which means half of the crew would have to go as well, I suppose.

Kharn asks for a report and Chang tells him there’s a Federation squadron in orbit, so they don’t know about Garth lurking behind the planet. You’d think they’d be smarter than that, but then Garth would have to be smarter, which would be substantially harder to write. Chang thinks the Federation ships have been caught off guard because they appear disorganized, but Kharn isn’t so sure. He orders his ships to fire torpedoes.

At least we don’t get a tactical display showing torpedoes being fired. Instead, we cut to the chase and see it in space SFX. Good job, writers.

Back aboard the D7, Kharn orders a Klingon maneuvers. You know it’s Klingon because instead of being named after the Greek alphabet, it’s named the “Bat’leth formation.” I may tease, but I like it better than “pattern mu,” or whatever. It’s descriptive. If you know what a bat’leth is, you have a general idea of what the ships are doing.

And if you don’t, you’ll get to see it in the next shot.

EXT. SPACE – THE KLINGON FLEET (OPTICAL)

DROPS OUT OF WARP and forms THREE BATTLE WINGS in a crescent shape. Two of them CHARGE FORWARD towards the Axanar.

That’s nice work right there. I would’ve liked to see it on screen. Hopefully, the SFX (at least) has already been done and shows up in the revised Axanar. All they need is someone describing the Klingons using the “Bat’leth formation” as an intro, and they’re good to go.

Now for the Klingon View

We’re sixty-seven pages through the script, why mix it up now?

DARKNESS

FIRE appears again in SLOW MOTION. Once more, we hear distant SCREAMS, SIRENS, EXPLOSIONS. The fire grows and now we see it enveloping the blade of a KNIFE.

That’s what you get when you keep a block of firewood on the bridge just for knife stabbing.

Yup, Kharn’s had another vision. I think it means he’s worried about fire safety aboard his ship.

We see that he’s standing before a GRAND WINDOW overlooking the MOUNTAINS. Chang ENTERS and hands Kharn a tablet.

Ozarks? Sierra Nevadas? Himalayas? Andes?

Alas, we’ll never know. Chang is there to deliver a message and we quickly jump to the Klingon War Room. It would have been more economical, and also more interesting, if Kharn had his vision while in the Klingon meeting, but I appreciated the break from the endless paralleling, as short as it was.

INT. KLINGON WAR ROOM (QO’NOS) – A SHORT TIME LATER

The Klingon Generals are standing around the map table discussing their battle plans. Kharn and Chang ENTER.

The writers might as well copy/paste to save time.

Kharn: Our spies have confirmed it. Starfleet is building its new Constitution class starships here…at Axanar. (points) That is where we will strike.

Pointing with purpose. I like it!

Once they destroy the Connie’s, which are the only ships capable of challenging the D7, they’ll attack Earth.

Mor’o (O.S.): It is an honorable plan, Kharn.

Well, it’s a plan. I suspect it’s only an “honorable plan” because it was developed by a Klingon. Trek philosophy question: if a Klingon doesn’t mention honor, is he a Klingon? I fear most fan films would answer “no.”

All of the Klingons bow to Mor’o because he’s a “thought admiral,” which I guess is a big deal. I’ll roll with it.

Chang (disrespectfully): The last thought Admiral.

I never would’ve guessed Chang was being disrespectful without the adverb. It’s not in his character at all.

I really don’t like how an interesting character was turned into such a moustache-twirler. He’s boring now. It’s certainly not a Chang that I could believe turned into the man we see in Undiscovered Country.

With a deft and nearly effortless move, Mor’o KNOCKS CHANG OFF HIS FEET with his cane. The Generals LAUGH.

We’re now taking elements from a wuxia film created by a Westerner with no appreciation of the genre? That’s the first thing I think of when I see this sort of thing. It’s painfully cliché, like far too many elements before it.

Mor’o: Only by learning from the past, can we hope to win the future, Commander. Do not be so quick to cast aside proven experience.

Ooh, a venerable martial artist who speaks in proverbs and tired old sayings. How original.

Kharn welcomes Mor’o, obliquely chastises Chang, and dismisses his generals. Mor’o tells Kharn he has done well and asks if it’s time to “strike the Humans.”

Kharn: It has. I have seen to it.

That sounds interesting. Too bad this isn’t Kharn’s film. Then maybe we would have seen it too.

Kharn orders Chang to “open a channel to the fleet” so he can give us a stirring speech. Look, if you want to parallel Kharn and Garth, mix it up a little. Maybe write two stirring speeches that compliment each other and cut between them. Just give me something new. This see the scene from one side and then see the same scene with slight variations from the other side got old quite some time ago.

Anyway, Kharn is a slightly more interesting motivational speaker than Garth. I’m sure the contrast is meant to show Garth as a humble, get ‘er done sort of commander and Kharn as one that is grandiose and needs to be taken down a peg. Instead it comes off like Kharn actually cares about what’s going on. It’s not the most original speech, but it’s got more color to it than anything we’ve seen yet.

Kharn: Brothers and sisters…long have we watched the scourge of Humanity spreading through space, daring to encroach upon our birthright. At last, the time has come to wipe them from the galaxy. (beat) Take your battle stations! WE STORM THE GATES!

This speech was actually recorded for one of the Axanar teaser trailers, so you can listen to it.

That’s not how I would’ve directed that vocal performance, but it would have been a fun little piece of scenery chewing for Hatch had it been filmed, may he have fair winds and following seas.

Act Three, yes, they’re still labeled, ends with a shot of a hundred ships of the Klingon fleet.

I’m sure I’m supposed to be excited, but this script is exhausting. And not in a good way.

Act Three thoughts: What can I say about Act Three? Most of it is entirely unnecessary. These scenes read like they’re there to inflate the page count with more praise of Garth. We have the constant cycle of Federation view—Klingon view—Federation view—Klingon view that makes it really tedious and monotonous. The structure is lost in an endless cycle.

Of characterization, there’s still no sign. There’s no arc. There’s no one to root for. Right now, I’m rooting for the damn Doomsday Machine. Just get there and kill everyone, little buddy.

Act Four is the battle. Thirty pages. God help me.