Welcome to my website!

This is the personal website of Tri L. Astraatmadja. I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany. I am involved in the Gaia project, a space mission that will survey around 1 billion stars in our Galaxy.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

On who I am and how I came to be.

It's all about painting with light

On the art and techniques of photography.

Weblog

Your (almost) regular dosage of astronomy-related, research-related, or life (or the complete lack thereof)-related blog posts.

Gare du Nord

February 16th, 2015

Kisah kecil ini terjadi di Gare du Nord, Paris, awal bulan Januari 2007.

Saya tiba di Paris pagi itu hanya dengan mengantongi uang 75 sen. Entah bagaimana uang saya habis. Bukan karena dirampok, tapi karena memang uang saya sedikit sekali dan saya tidak pandai mengatur keuangan. Dari uang 200 euro yang dipinjamkan karib saya si Abi, sewaktu saya di Berlin, tiba-tiba sampai Paris sudah tinggal segitu saja.

Untungnya saat itu tanggal muda, jadi uang beasiswa saya setiap saat bisa tiba. Hari masih subuh saat saya keluar dari kereta tidur yang membawa saya dari Muenchen. Di Gare de l’Est saya sempat memeriksa uang di bank. Transaksi pengambilan uang ditolak karena memang tidak ada uang di rekening saya. Uang belum tiba.

Saya berjalan ke Gare du Nord, dan di sana mulai putar otak. Apabila sampai jam buka bank, uang beasiswa saya tak kunjung tiba, barangkali saya bisa mencoba lagi menjual lensa kamera. Di Wina saya sudah berusaha menjual lensa kamera saya di sebuah toko kamera, namun mereka menolak. Mungkin di Paris ini ada toko kamera yang mau.

Saya gunakan sisa uang 75 sen saya itu untuk membayar WC umum. Selain untuk kencing, juga untuk mengisi botol air. Tinggal 25 sen uang saya. Di suatu bangku yang menghadap peron-peron, saya duduk termangu. Uang sudah benar-benar habis, bahkan untuk telepon pun tidak bisa. Sekarang tinggal menunggu jam buka bank untuk menentukan langkah selanjutnya.

Selagi saya sedang duduk berpikir itu, tahu-tahu ada seseorang menyorongkan karcisnya seraya bertanya, “Calais”? Saya lihat karcisnya, ia hendak pergi ke Calais—suatu kota di pinggir selat Calais tempat pelabuhan ferry ke Dover di Inggris—dengan kereta sekitar pukul 9.30. Masih agak lama. Ia tak bisa Bahasa Perancis, jadi saya terangkan padanya dalam Bahasa Inggris, seraya menunjuk ke papan pengumuman, bahwa kereta ke Calais belum diumumkan akan berangkat dari peron berapa. Tunggu saja. Ia mengangguk dan duduk di sebelah saya.

Mumpung ada kesempatan, barangkali ini orang bisa membantu saya meminjamkan duit. Saya ajak dia ngobrol, sembari menunggu. “Datang dari mana?” Tanya saya. Dia menjawab, dari Afghanistan. Wow, saya hanya bisa terkagum. Apakah dia melarikan diri dari negaranya yang tengah dilanda peperangan?

Dia lalu bercerita, dengan Bahasa Inggris yang terbatas, dan dengan usaha saya memahaminya, bahwa dia tidak punya paspor, dan kini sedang berusaha mencoba peruntungannya untuk memasuki Inggris. Dia bercerita mengenai usaha-usaha teman-temannya terdahulu memasuki Inggris dengan cara masuk di dalam truk dan berharap tidak ada yang memeriksa. Dia memperagakan tangan terikat, bercerita mengenai nasib yang terjadi apabila ketahuan: Diborgol bagaikan penjahat.

“How is Aghanistan now?” Saya bertanya.
“Good”, jawabnya.
“No Taliban, good.” Ia melanjutkan seraya mengacungkan jempol.
“Hamid Karzai?” Saya bertanya lagi.
“Hamid Karzai, good.” Ia menjawab, kembali mengacungkan jempol.

Saya akhirnya memutuskan untuk meminjam duit dari orang ini, walaupun ia sendiri tidak lebih baik situasinya dari saya. “Can you help me?” Saya bertanya. Saya jelaskan semampu saya bahwa saya sedang dalam perjalanan menuju Amiens (sebuah kota kecil di Perancis utara) untuk menemui teman, dan saya kehabisan uang dan membutuhkan bantuannya untuk membeli karcis. Saya jelaskan bahwa saya sebenarnya tengah menunggu uang dan saya berjanji akan segera mengembalikan uang tersebut ke rekening banknya segera setelah saya mendapatkan uang.

Dia terdiam sejenak dan kemudian membuka tas pinggangnya, lalu menyerahkan saya uang 20 euro. Saya lalu bertanya apakah dia punya rekening bank, sehingga saya mengembalikan uang tersebut.
“My address?” Tanyanya.
“No, your bank account.” Saya berkata sambil menunjukkan kartu ATM, berharap ia mengerti.
“Ah… Bank account… No passport, no bank account! Ia menjawab sambil tersenyum kecil.

Ah… lalu bagaimana saya mengembalikan uang ini? Saya bertanya… Ia menggelengkan kepala, “It’s okay,” ujarnya.

Oh astaga… di sini ada orang yang berusaha mengadu nasib, lari dari perang dan pertikaian di negaranya sendiri, berusaha menyambung hidupnya dengan menyelundupkan diri ke perbatasan Inggris–Perancis, memulai hidupnya di sana, dan kini… saya harus mengambil dari dia uang 20 euro? Saya sangat berterima kasih padanya, bersyukur bahwa di dunia ini masih ada orang seperti dia… tapi tiba-tiba saya merasa jadi sangat tidak enak dan malu dengan diri sendiri. Bagaimana tidak, saya adalah kelas menengah ngehek yang dapat duit beasiswa untuk bisa melanjutkan sekolah, tapi karena kebodohan sendiri akhirnya jalan-jalan tanpa menyadari bahwa uang sebenarnya tidak cukup.

Selang beberapa saat saya kembali ke mesin ATM dan mencoba peruntungan hari ini. Ada uang muncul! Uang beasiswa telah tiba! Saya segera lari dan mendekati kawan baru saya si orang Afghanistan, seraya mengembalikan uang 20 euro itu kembali kepadanya. Oh astaga, ia menolak uangnya dikembalikan… saya memaksa dan berkata bahwa “it’s okay…” saya sudah uang yang cukup sekarang. Ia akhirnya menerima kembali pinjamannya itu.

Kami kembali mengobrol melanjutkan percakapan, saya temani dia hingga ada pengumuman jelas, dari peron mana keretanya akan berangkat. Saya temani ia ke peron, dan sebelum berangkat saya ucapkan semoga selamat sampai di tujuan, saya peluk dia erat dan kami ber-cipika-cipiki bagaikan sahabat lama. Sejenak kemudian saya melanjutkan perjalanan ke Amiens.

Episode ini adalah bagian yang tak pernah saya lupakan dalam hidup saya. Sekali waktu, apabila melewati Gare du Nord, saya akan melihat kembali bangku tempat saya menghabiskan waktu sebentar bersama si pengungsi Afghanistan tersebut. Terkadang saya berpikir, apa yang terjadi dengannya. Mampukah ia memasuki Inggris?

***

Bertahun-tahun kemudian, saat saya sering mengunjungi London, Restoran Tayyab’s di Whitechapel adalah salah satu restoran favorit saya. Suatu malam, di tahun 2010, saat saya berdiri mengantri pesanan makanan, seorang pelayan menghampiri saya dan berdiri di samping saya. Setelah berramah-tamah, ia bertanya asal saya.
“I’m from Indonesia,” saya menjawab. “How about you?”
“From Aghanistan…”
Wow… kami lalu berdiskusi mengenai situasi di sana. Ia lalu mengambil sekeranjang coklat dan menawarkan pada saya. “Mau coklat? Sembari menunggu…”
Saya ambil sebatang coklat dan berterima kasih. Tiba-tiba saya merasakan ada sesuatu yang aneh… sesuatu yang saya pernah alami sebelumnya…

Saya sering mengkhayalkan bahwa pelayan itu adalah si Orang Afghanistan yang saya temui di Gare du Nord. Ia berhasil melewati perbatasan dan pada akhirnya bekerja sebagai pelayan Tayyab’s di Whitechapel. Kemungkinan besar ini tidak benar, dan itu hanyalah khayalan saya saja, tapi saya terkadang merasa itu adalah kenyataan.

Et tu, Masinton?

February 15th, 2015

[Sebuah surat terbuka bagi Saudara Masinton Pasaribu, anggota DPR-RI, dari salah seorang pemilihnya pada Pemilu Legislatif 2014 lalu]

Saudara Masinton Pasaribu!

Dengan sangat terkejut saya membaca perkembangan berita konflik KPK vs. Polri, di mana Bung serta-merta dan dengan suara yang amat lantang, tampak telah menjadi bagian dari pihak-pihak yang mendukung pengangkatan Budi Gunawan menjadi Kapolri.

Dalam suatu pemberitaan, Anda bahkan menuduh pihak-pihak dalam istana sebagai “Brutus”. Sebuah tuduhan serius bagi yang mafhum bahwa Markus Yunius Brutus adalah bagian dari persekongkolan untuk membunuh Yulius Caesar. Kita bersama tahu bahwa Yulius Caesar adalah guru politik serta bapak angkat Brutus sendiri.

Bung mungkin tidak kenal saya: saya adalah satu suara dari hampir 31 ribu pemilih yang telah memberikan amanat agar Bung menjadi anggota DPR-RI di Pemilihan Umum Legislatif bulan April 2014 lalu. Saya memilih Bung, pertama karena saya menginginkan PDI-P mampu mencapai ambang pemilihan untuk dapat mencalonkan presidennya sendiri yaitu Jokowi, dan tentu saja, saat itu saya mempercayai rekam jejak Bung terutama sebagai aktivis mahasiswa dan pergerakan rakyat.

Kita semua tahu bahwa pemberantasan korupsi adalah agenda besar yang harus kita laksanakan segera. Pemilihan Budi Gunawan sebagai calon tunggal Kapolri adalah satu kesalahan Jokowi—apapun latar belakang yang memotivasinya—di saat kita mengetahui bahwa yang bersangkutan diduga kuat memiliki rekening dengan angka yang tidak wajar. Memaksa mendukung pencalonan orang ini, di saat Presiden justru sudah memperbaiki kesalahannya dengan membatalkan pencalonan Budi Gunawan, adalah kesalahan fatal yang semakin menjauhkan PDI-P dari aspirasi rakyat.

Ingatkah Bung saat Pemilu 1999, ketika masyarakat memberikan kepercayaan dan harapan yang demikian besar pada PDI-P? Dengan mudah hampir 34% suara diperoleh, namun PDI-P gagal mengelola kekuasaan tersebut dan justru menjadi bagian dari oligarki sisa-sisa Orde Baru. Kini, kepercayaan dan harapan tersebut diberikan kembali, namun lagi-lagi PDI-P mengkhianati aspirasi rakyat yang menginginkan pemerintahan yang berwibawa dan bersih: Bebas dari korupsi.

Sudah geram saya dengan drama politik busuk yang terjadi di panggung negeri ini belakangan. Kapan pemerintahan Jokowi akan bisa membuktikan dan mencapai target kerja jika ia selalu dibebani urusan-urusan untuk pemenuhan kepentingan dalam tubuh partai yang secara hati nurani Jokowi sebagai presiden pilihan rakyat, justru tampaknya enggan untuk menyetujui? Bukankah ini sangat memalukan: PDI-P memaksa Jokowi untuk mengikuti dukungan kalian terhadap calon Kapolri Korup? Kejadian seperti inikah yang akan dicatat sejarah dan diingat oleh generasi mendatang?

Menjadi anggota DPR-RI seperti posisi di mana sekarang Bung berada, harusnya menjadi suatu kendaraan politik untuk dapat melancarkan agenda-agenda reformasi dan pembangunan negara yang berkeadilan dan berkemanusiaan, bukan justru menyerahkan diri menjadi bagian dari oligarki politik yang membusukkan bangsa dan memperparah borok warisan rezim Orde Baru. Tapi melihat sikap PDI-P yang justru terlihat semakin kuat mendukung pencalonan Kapolri yang diduga korup, adalah wajar sekiranya langkah yang diambil Jokowi justru menjauhkan diri dari PDI-P. Ia sepertinya masih punya telinga untuk bisa lamat-lamat mendengar suara rakyatnya yang jauh berada di balik tembok istana. Sikap kalian di partai penyokong Jokowi sendirilah, saya kira, yang menyebabkan sang presiden ingin jauh-jauh dari kalian, bukan karena ada “Brutus” yang berniat mengkhianati Jokowi yang seperti Bung koarkan.

Brutus mungkin telah mengkhianati guru politik dan bapak angkatnya, Yulius Caesar, namun ingatlah bahwa Brutus bersekongkol membunuh Caesar bukan karena ia haus kekuasaan! Brutus membunuh Caesar karena prinsip hati nuraninya sendiri: Ia tidak mau Republik Romawi jatuh ke tangan tiran dan autokrat seperti Caesar, yang baru saja mengangkat dirinya sendiri menjadi penguasa seumur hidup. Brutus mencintai dan menghormati Caesar, tapi ia lebih mencintai Republik Romawi. Markus Antonius berkata, “[Brutus adalah] orang Romawi yang paling mulia di antara semuanya.”

Apa lacur, suara yang sudah saya berikan pada Pemilu lalu untuk Anda, tidak dapat saya tarik kembali. Namun ingatlah selalu, sepak terjang Anda dalam konflik antara KPK vs. Polri kali ini, dengan jelas akan semakin menegaskan bahwa Bung bukanlah orang yang tepat untuk saya pilih lagi. Bahwa Bung bukanlah orang yang memiliki prinsip, apalagi ada keinginan untuk berpihak pada rakyat yang menginginkan negara ini bersih dari koruptor dan korupsi! Sepak terjang Bung ternyata tak ada beda dengan politisi busuk lainnya dan hanya bermuara serta ikut semata pada instruksi partai. Sangat jauh dari semangat reformasi. Sikap Bung seperti kerbau dicocok hidung, dengan perspektif kacamata kuda menurut saja pada sabda partai. Di mana keberpihakan pada rakyat yang dulu Bung janjikan untuk para calon pemilih yang telah membawa Bung ke kursi DPR-RI?

Saya menyesal telah memilih dan memberikan suara untuk mempercayai Bung duduk di kursi Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat! Untuk selanjutnya, tentu saja saya tidak akan sudi lagi mempercayai omongan Bung. Baik dalam sepak terjang politik yang akan datang, dan dalam pemilihan-pemilihan umum yang masih akan terus berlanjut di negeri ini.

Oh ya satu lagi: Ngentot loe!

Salam,
Tri L. Astraatmadja

Kodachrome

December 13th, 2013

Kodachrome, the miraculous film. Source: Wikipedia.


The death of Kodachrome was slowly felt when Kodak announced in June 2009 that they will no longer manufacture the slides. Then they decided to shut-off their processing plant in Lausanne, Switzerland, and outsourced any processing to Dwayne’s Photo, a photo laboratory in Parsons, Kansas. Dwayne’s became the only lab on this planet that can process Kodachrome, but this won’t last very long. Sometime in 2010, Dwayne’s announced that they will stop accepting any Kodachrome on December 30th 2010. Finally the last place on Earth that can process Kodachrome shut down its machine, when the last Kodachrome roll has been processed.

I do not remember where was I when I read this news that Dwayne’s shut off its Kodachrome processing. What I did remember was bitterness because I still have several rolls of undeveloped Kodachrome. I remember I frantically searched for other alternatives, just like somebody who are in the stage of denial when facing their own death. Acceptance came soon: either process them as a black and white reversal like Agfa Scala, or just wait until somebody wants to restart Kodachrome manufacture and processing. The second option would be akin to what The Impossible Project is doing for Polaroid films.

What can I say about Kodachrome? Obituaries has been written about it, a last picture show has been made, a state park has been named after it, and a song about it was once even written by Paul Simon. It’s a cultural icon, although it was totally forgotten during it’s last days. All I can say is that I had a brief run with Kodachrome between 2007 and 2010, I shot 38 rolls of them, and I cherish every frame of it. The days when I received my processed slides from Lausanne were the exciting days, I would immediately inspect it with my lightbox and loup, and I would mark the truly best shot. Some of the frames have been scanned and put into a set somewhere else.

Skara Brae, Orkney Island, 2010. My last Kodachrome shot.

The last Kodachrome shot I took was when I traveled to the UK in 2010. I managed to send the rolls to Lausanne and they sent me back the results. There are still two rolls (if I remember correctly) that I haven’t manage to send to the lab. It remains in my freezer up until today, waiting for my decision. Who knows what memory lies inside? I have totally forgot.

What make these slides so awesome? Simply because the colors are so alive and will be so well-preserved that they will stay that way until the next century. Unfortunately, their processing, called the K-14 process, is so delicate and elaborate that no amateur photographers can do that. This is because Kodachrome, unlike other color reversal films such as Ektachrome, has no dye integrated within the emulsion, and thus must be introduced during the processing. The emulsion must then be lighted with two lamps: red and blue. Such process can only be done with a professional machine.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now with Kodachrome. Rumors have spread that some private parties have been thinking about restarting production of Kodachrome films and accepting processing. This rumor is yet to be confirmed, and I myself is hoping that someone is willing to do another impossible project for Kodachrome. A good friend of mine, on the other hand, once told me that I should be one who should initialize the resurrection of Kodachrome. Well… we’ll see about that!

Simpler solution

December 4th, 2013

There is an old, well-known, anecdote about Soviet space pen. In the 1960s during the space race, NASA engineers spent years of research and millions of dollars to develop a pen that can work in space. What came out in the end was a pen with a pressurized ink cartridge, enabling one to write in zero-gravity, underwater, as well as at any angle of writing. Soviet engineers, facing the same problem, came out with a simpler, more elegant, solution: a pencil.

It’s a charming and well-known anecdote, but it is already established as an urban legend. The moral of the story, however, can be taken to heart: Sometimes we spend a lot of efforts to create an elaborate solution to a problem, while missing out on a simpler (and possibly more elegant) solution.

Last week I was struggling with the simulation code I’ve been working on for quite some time. I’m supposed to do a numerical integration of a function, however the function has be interpolated from a grid of two-dimensional data points. It’s okay. I can use the usual Simpson’s 3/8 integration and Bicubic spline interpolation. The problem is that bicubic spline interpolation is notoriously much slower compared to bilinear interpolation, although they are better.

At the end of the implementation, it took around 8 seconds to finish integrating, and I have to do it 480 times! The total running time is then $480\times 8 \sim 1\;{\rm hour}$ to finish the whole code. Jeebus that’s too fucking slow, so Coryn (my boss) suggested me to use a look-up table and other methods of integration.

After several days, look-up table turns out to be difficult to implement for the sort of function I want to integrate, so investigating adaptive quadrature looks like an interesting bet. I tried fidgeting around first with Legendre-Gauss Quadrature, and it manages to quicken the code by a factor of three. It’s okay but it’s not enough.

I was just about to write my code for an adaptive quadrature when I notice that in my part of the code where it is doing the interpolation, a bicubic spline constructor is always declared inside the method for the interpolation. The first thing that came to my mind was, what the fuck is the constructor doing over there? I then move the constructor out of the method and declare it as a field of the class. I don’t need my code to declare a constructor and fill it with the grid values every time I request an interpolation. I need it to just to interpolate and all of that bloody initialization can be performed beforehand.

After I made that correction, I run the code again and… lo and behold… everything is finished within 2 seconds! Not one hour, not 30 minutes, but two fucking seconds! Yep… I spent one whole week looking for a solution that might not significantly increase the speed of the code without sacrificing accuracy, and here I am with an elegant and simple solution.

Of course it is a good idea also to look at adaptive quadrature again, as it will potentially increase the speed of the code even more.

After-hours WTF moment

October 11th, 2013

Never in my life somebody has treated me so rude like what has transpired last Thursday… and in the past 7 years I’ve lived both in The Netherlands (where it is said that customer service is nonexistent) and France (Gabriel Garcia Márquez once wrote that French people is the rudest people in the world)! It was around 21.50, October 10, I was still in my office at the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy (MPIA), ready to go home. I called a ruftaxi (a taxi whose schedule follows that of a bus schedule, but must be called at least 30 minutes in advance. You pay the same amount as a bus fare. The rest will be paid by the city) and gave the usual request with my best German:
“Hello, good evening, can you send a ruftaxi to the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie at Königstuhl?”
“Okay. When do you want it?”
“The next one, please.”
“I don’t know when’s the next one. You have to give me the time.” *hangs up*
What the fuck, this is rude enough and very unusual. What the hell is this? An exam? This has never happened before, the operator would normally just tell me the time (which I know for sure that it’s 22.26) and I would meet the driver at the agreed-upon time. I call the taxi company again.
“Hello, it’s me again. The next ruftaxi is at 22.26. Can you send me that one?”
“No that’s not right. You have to check the internet.” *hangs up*
Oh my fucking god, this has gone outrageously rude. There’s not even a good-bye. What the fuck is going on with him? Did he just broke up with his partner or is his partner simply didn’t give him any sex in the past… I don’t know… eight months? Probably he just simply enjoys abusing his power, but then again it’s equally probable that he just had a big fight with his significant other and dumped all his anger to me. Probably he’s just in need of a hug and a proper blowjob.

But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt despite his rudeness. What with the construction works around Königstuhl there might be a change of schedule that I wasn’t aware of. Probably he’s just pissed at customers who aren’t aware of such things. I open the website of the public transport service and it clearly says that the next ruftaxi will come to the MPIA at 22.26 and that I should call at least 30 minutes in advance. Business as usual, nothing changes. I called the taxi central again.

“Hi it’s me again. The website says here that the ruftaxi to the Max Planck Institute will arrive at 22.26.”
“No that’s not right… wait, which Max Planck Institute are you?”
“Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.” *duh*
“…oh yes you’re right! Sorry.. sorry… I’ll send you one. For one person, right? I’m sorry.”

Oh what the fuck. At least he apologized and the ruftaxi later came at 22.26. No explanation though.

You might not be reading this, my dear taxi central operator, but if you do I just want to say: I really don’t need any explanation from you, but next time please do remember that whoever at the other end of the line is also a fellow human being just like you. Even though you only hear their voice.

Some thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness

June 5th, 2013

What else there is to say about Star Trek Into Darkness (STID)? Everybody has seen it and made their comment. I guess what I’m going to say here will be nothing new after all.

You might have seen my ranking of the best Star Trek movies ever, which starts here and then continued here because I’ve to go watch STID. Simply saying, where does STID stand in my ranking?

I will put STID at number 7 among the best Star Trek movies ever. It certainly is better than that shitty ST5 and all those awful TNG movies, but not as good as the first Abramsverse Star Trek.

STID is a fine action movie with much less plot hole than its predecessor, and is still playing out people’s brand awareness of Star Trek by showing off elements familiar to wider audiences. This time the Klingons and a tribble make an appearance, to evoke the sense that this is still Star Trek after all. I also enjoy very much the role of Uhura in STID, which is considerably more than one can say about Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura’s roles. Here Uhura is a competent linguist and is given an important role to the plot. In fact she has replaced McCoy in the holy trinity of TOS’ three most important character. In the olden days it used to be Kirk, Spock, and McCoy going to an away mission. Now it’s Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. It is also nice to see Sulu in the Captain’s chair, a nod to George Takei’s Sulu who was promoted as Captain of the Excelsior in ST6.

Despite all these, STID still lack an important element that defines Star Trek and separate it from other popular franchise set in space: A compelling human drama and morality play that encourage us to ask what does it mean to be human. STID is all about shoot-‘em-up. It’s a good action movie but it’s not Star Trek.

There is an attempt early in the film to mimic another feature of Star Trek: as a commentary to the contemporary social conditions. As I’ve said in my previous writings, a long time ago people noticed that Star Trek was sometimes an allegory to the Cold War. In STID they tried to make some sort of a statement about the war on terror but somehow they went out of the window towards the middle of the story, in order to give way to the action, and Kirk’s question about giving Khan a fair trial was soon forgotten.

What we have instead is a bunch of reference and nod to all things that in the past define Star Trek, just as a fan service and to show that the writers have at least do their homework. What these references lacking are motivations that drive the plot, leaving us instead with parody of Star Trek and guessing game throughout the whole movies: Which Star Trek reference are they going to shove-in next? When Kirk went into the engine room to realign the warp core, and Spock then realized what happened, I was sort of thinking that the only way they can make this parody worse is by making Spock shout Khan’s name in the way only The Shat can pull. I fell into a facepalm when that actually happen.

What makes the death of Spock in ST2 such an important moment that sometimes still bring tears to my eyes, while its homage in STID can only bring me into facepalm? I gues it is because the STID scene lacks motivation and is there just to refer to ST2, and thus is lacking an emotional resonance. In ST2, Spock’s death is important to give Kirk a character arc. Before Spock’s death everything always went alright for him. He never believed in a no-win situation and always bluff and cheat his way out of tight situation. Now he has to face death and lost his dear friend, making him cherish life more. At the end of ST2 Kirk grows a character and became a changed man, symbolized by the birth of the Genesis planet. Kirk’s sacrifice in STID I guess is there to also give him an arc, to make him learn the meaning of sacrifice and dedication, thus transform him from an asshole into Bill Shatner’s Kirk, but it was done by blatantly copying ST2 that it is there merely as a wink-wink moment for those who have watched ST2. The same can be said to the many references to the old Trek in STID: They are there merely as a reference while not giving us any new insight to the characters.

Self-reference is not something new in Star Trek, but it used to be done cleverly. Case in point: In ST3, the self-destruct sequence of the Enterprise was done in a similar way to the sequence enacted in the TOS episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. They even use the same self-destruct code. Both enactment however, have different dramatic functions. While the sequence in the TOS episode is already quite superb, with shots and close-ups that resembles Mexican standoff scenes in western movies, the ST3 sequence also stands out to dramatically depict Kirk and co.’s ultimate sacrifice for their dear comrade. It is not a poor imitation of the original, and the reference is there but subtle enough and not distracting. In STID all those references can be very distracting and serve no purpose.

The plot of STID is more-or-less a rehash of the 2009 Star Trek: Chris Pine’s Kirk having leadership and dedication problem and must learn to roll like The Shat’s Captain Kirk. Spock being a stickler for regulations and feeling conflicted with his human emotions. A villain who is dedicated to something is hell-bent on revenge for being wronged. Old Spock appears again. Why do we need to see the same plot, when the arcs of the main cast have been nicely established in the first movie?

Why must Spock Prime appear again, only to lecture Spock on who Khan really is? Jeez, don’t they read history books? In Space Seed, Khan’s reputation is already documented in the ship’s computer and all they have to do is learn history. Here Spock Prime’s presence is merely to assure us that what we are watching is still Star Trek because Leonard Nimoy is in there.

Four years ago, when Star Trek 2009 came out, I wrote that I was quite happy with the convincing acting of the cast and how normal their interactions are. Despite the humongous plot holes and the fact that it is very far from the ideals of Star Trek, I am willing to accept this new continuity as a mean to bring Star Trek back into the public’s attention in the same way ST4 bring Star Trek outside its fan base. I was hoping that the sequel will take Star Trek back into its root: Musings about the nature of humanity, an optimistic vision of the future of humanity, and the optimistic view of modern technology as a force of good.

Unfortunately this is not the case in STID. In a time like this, STID writers have the chance to provide us with an important commentary on our present society, just like the olden days Star Trek. Science-fiction stories have also for a long time becomes a mean to do that. This opportunity is unfortunately has been passed in order to tell a simple but tired story of good and evil, while referencing the past here and there. The new Star Trek should not keep going back into the past. It should look toward the future, creating new interesting science-fiction stories. Making Star Trek more cerebral is of course a financially risky proposition in times like these, where movies have to quickly make bucks and the economy is uncertain, but I’m pretty sure that a smart writing can in fact make people more interested and make the sequel distinct from its predecessor.

I am quite sure that they are going to make another one, but I’m much less optimistic than in 2009 when the reboot came out. If they keep making Star Trek like this I will certainly skip the next one.

Star Trek movies ranked from worst to best (Part 2)

May 11th, 2013

Okay, I’m back from watching Star Trek Into Darkness (STID). I’m not going to say anything about it except that the top 5 spots are in no way of being endangered to be replaced by STID. So here’s my take on the next six best Star Trek movies, and part 1 is here if you haven’t read it already.

6. Star Trek Abramsverse (2009)

I have to say I quite enjoy the Abramsverse. There are some enjoyable moments and it is a smart action movie despite the annoying lens flares that has become the trademark of J.J. Abrams. The acting of the actors are really fine and they manage to embody the spirit of the original crew. However the most important aspect of Star Trek is still lacking in Abramsverse: the human drama and exposition of ethical problems that have became the trademark of the best episodes of Star Trek. Abramsverse’s Star Trek is all about shooting a bunch of phasers and kicking ass.

Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now? ... [Or] is it simply a game for rich young boys to play? The color of the world is changing day by day...

The problem has been told many times before: This is not a Star Trek for me or any older generation who remember TOS and TNG, but a Star Trek for the general audience who is not emotionally invested in the previous incarnation of Trek. What they know about Star Trek is just the general stereotype: The dashing womanizing Captain, the alien logical First Officer, and a bunch of other people speaking in foreign accent. Consequently everything has to be simplified much to the chagrin of the die-hard fanboys. I still long for Star Trek to be the cerebral Trek I once knew, however we might have to come to the realization that nobody is going to make any show like that, and that DS9 is the last great Star Trek show that has been made. Shows have to make money as much as possible and for that everything has to be simplified so that as many people can enjoy it and buy the tickets.

The great success of the Abramsverse Star Trek is that it can incorporate elements from the original series to produce an enjoyable action movie. However my problem with the movie is that above all Star Trek is not an action franchise but it is a human drama and moral play, and these are the most important elements in Star Trek that are seriously lacking in the last 5 Trek movies. Abrams make Star Trek feel and look like Star Wars… which is kind of weird because if I want to watch Star Wars I would watch Star Wars and not Star Trek.

5. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

A movie that should not exist were we able to accept Spock's death, but I like the sweet ending nonetheless.


We have in this installment a hammy Doc Brown playing as a Klingon captain, Commander Kruge. Attempts to bring Spock back from the dead are a bit contrived here and I think the movie is quite unnecessary: They should have let Spock dead and move on. Spock’s death was an important moment that left Kirk a changed man. Bringing back Spock only renders those important moments about accepting death and cherishing life ineffective.

Having said that, I kind of understand why this movie should exists (other than to play it safe by bringing back Spock to the franchise): It was meant as a device to show how different Kirk is from Spock. “The need of the many outweigh the need of the few or the one” has been taken as an axiom by Spock, however at the end of the movie Kirk answered that he and his crew risk everything to safe him simply because “the need of the one outweigh the need of the many,” which shows that the logically-flawed humans (at least according to Vulcan logic) manage to do the right thing by sacrificing their career for their dear comrade.

We already kind of know that but we need to be convinced anyway, that’s why this movie exists.
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