Thursday, January 16, 2014

Eagles and Transporters

Transporters, though an awesome idea for technological advance, were killers. In the Star Trek universe, the story of a ship traversing space saving lives and planets and fighting evil could not sustain the constant eagle element of the transporter and in the end for almost every episode they had to find excuses why the transporters couldn't do what they should have done.

What is an eagle element? Many readers of Lord of the Rings will understand this reference. In short, the story of the Lord of the Rings goes like this: there was a ring belonging to the ultimate evil bad guy. The only way to stop the evil bad guy would be to destroy the ring. The only way to destroy the ring was to travel through said evil bad guy's land, climb a mountain, walk into the mountain where molten lava pooled and flowed, and throw that thing straight into the molten lava. In the book a hobbit, a not-so-heroic character becomes the ultimate hero against the ultimate evil guy by taking the ring on that journey. When the journey ends the main character and his companion are stuck on an exploding volcano. To rescue them, giant eagles fly in and carry them out. A convenient escape, however picturesque. And herein lies the difficulty. Had it been that easy, then the eagles could have simply flown the ring in themselves and done the task quicker, safer and easier than anyone else. I've seen some deeply thought out arguments why the eagles could not do this smattered across the internet. The main one being that the operation had to be covert and eagles would not be covert. I seriously question that argument but to waylay long drawn out posts and debates, I'll talk about that some other time. Tolkein's answer? He blithely allows the eagles to excuse themselves from tasks such as these because 'they don't get involved in the affairs' of Middle Earth humanoids.
by Toby Carr on DeviantArt:

Please don't zap me through the computer and blow my screen up because I deride the great Tolkein. I love the books. But I hate the eagles. I hate the convenience of them, they kill so much tension and conflict and leave a giant gaping hole through the entire storyline.

Star Trek's eagles are their transporters. Every time they are in trouble, every time someone is about to die the transporters can't cut through the static, or they can't take them out without disturbing some field, or they just aren't working. A technology like that, which would be crucial for saving lives and they don't make sure it works at all times? Makes no sense. Transporters kill tension. Transporters kill storylines and in the end they become lousy pieces of technology because of it.

Pixar's 22 rules of storytelling as compiled by storyboard artist Emma Coats has this rule:

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

In the same line of reasoning, a major tool such as the transporters conveniently being out of commission in time of need (not once but repeatedly) feels like a cheat.

Speaking of storylines...don't forget to vote on my next protagonist's name. The survey is in the sidebar to the right. I need more votes. Go. Vote.

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