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Star Trek Into Darkness (Franchise Recap)

The 2009 Star Trek reboot has been very controversial among geek circles, and for good reason. This is, after all, one of the greatest geek properties in all of science fiction. There was always going to be some measure of backlash in rebooting such a property, no matter how things were going to shake out. In the three years since the reboot, I’ve heard many criticisms against the film, some more valid than others.

For example, a good online friend of mine (who’s a huge Trekker, by the way) recently said “JJ Abrams took a series known for characters and turned it into an action set piece.” He accused the reboot of failing to do right by the characters, and I disagree. The film very clearly went out of its way to make every one of the main characters important to the plot in some way. Each of them gets a moment to save the day, and they were all cast superbly well. What’s more, the film took great pains to develop the classic relationships between characters, particularly among the Kirk/Spock/Bones trinity.

That said, the characterization isn’t without nitpicks. I’m not a fan of how Scotty was turned into a full-on comic relief character, and the less said about the Spock/Uhura relationship, the better. Then again, Uhura never really had much to do in the original series except be a good-looking black woman (so far as I recall, anyway), so at least the movie made an effort to inject some personality into the character.

Aside from Scotty, I’d say that the two characters who felt least like their original predecessors were Kirk and Spock. Chris Pine did a great job of depicting Kirk as a womanizing rogue, but Shatner’s Kirk also had an intelligence and a natural flair for leadership that are sorely missing from the latest incarnation. By a similar token, though the newer Spock does show signs of the cold logic we all know and love, Zachary Quinto is far more emotional and impulsive than Leonard Nimoy ever was.

(Side note: I feel compelled to admit that the script did terribly by Spock Prime as well, bungling the film’s scientific accuracy in the process. For more details, read this.)

Of course, I already know the rebuttal for this. The filmmakers wanted to show Kirk and Spock at earlier phases in their lives, so we could eventually see them mature and grow into the characters we know and love. I can see the logic in that, and I think they met their goal quite well. However, I’d counter-argue that the complaint would never have been necessary to begin with if the filmmakers had just skipped the damn origin story and given us the characters we know and love in the first place. Again, Patton Oswalt had it right: Nobody cares about how characters got to be awesome, we just want to see characters being awesome.

Moving on, it’s been said that Star Trek feels less like a Trek movie and more like a George Lucas movie. It’s hard to dispute that point. That said, A New Hope had something that the Trek franchise had been missing for a long time: Fun. It may have been obscured by those annoying and completely idiotic lens flares, but it was fun all the same.

(Side note: My dad once joked “What’s the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek? Star Wars is fiction.” Good joke, everybody laugh, roll on snare drum, curtains.)

This brings me to another complaint about the new film: It didn’t have any of the intellectual or thought-provoking science fiction that Star Trek was known for. I would argue that the last four Trek films didn’t either. Ever since the “end of the Cold War” allegory in The Undiscovered Country, the film series has been content to obsessively mull over obsolescence, revenge, mortality, the conflict of young vs. old, and a bunch of other warmed-over variations of themes that were already done and done better back in Wrath of Khan.

You want to argue that there were still plenty of great stories left to tell in the old continuity? Well, tell that to the people at Paramount. Tell that to Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who ran the franchise into the fucking ground with their addled prequel TV series and the “Next Generation” films (three-fourths of which sucked). If there were any new stories in this universe to tell, there’s little doubt that the brain trust responsible for the old franchise had no idea how to tell them.

That’s really what it comes down to. No matter how you feel about the Star Trek reboot, there’s no denying that the best Star Trek film of the twenty years prior was Galaxy Quest. This franchise was badly in need of new blood, and we sure as hell got it when Bad Robot came aboard. Whether or not we lost that draw, I leave that to your discretion.

Anyway, the point stands that Star Trek wasn’t nearly as intellectual or thought-provoking as anything in the original series. The film devoted precious little time to any technology, planets, or alien life forms we hadn’t already seen. There was none of the adventurous spirit or scientific curiosity that served as the foundation of Gene Roddenberry’s work. It’s a huge problem, but — and I realize how blasphemous this is — I’m willing to cut the film some slack for it.

For better or worse, this film’s first priority was to wipe the slate clean. It was basically a pilot episode, designed to build a foundation for a new, modern, enjoyable, and profitable franchise to come. I forgive the film for making that its first priority, for if the film couldn’t capture the hearts and wallets of a new generation, what difference would the rest have made? No matter how closely it stayed true to the spirit of the original series, with or without the new timeline, the franchise would have been damaged beyond repair if this film proved a criticial and/or commercial flop.

I’ll give the film a pass for skimping on the more intellectual fare, but it’s strictly a one-time pass. Now that the franchise has a solid foundation to build off of, I expect Abrams and co. to start boldly going where no man has gone before post-haste.

The bottom line is this: Though I’m still not entirely sure about the rebooted franchise’s quality and how beneficial it will be for Star Trek as a whole in the long run, the franchise is far better off now than it was under Berman and Braga. Furthermore, whether you agree or disagree about Abrams’ handling of the franchise, there’s no doubt that handing it off to someone else and changing direction yet again would do far more harm than good at this point in time. Additionally, we should all be grateful that Abrams at least gave the franchise a new lease on life by way of a passable film that made a ton of money.

For better or worse, Abrams is in charge for the foreseeable future. We can either cling to our DVDs of TOS and TNG, or we can buckle up and see where Abrams takes us. I personally choose the latter, but I wouldn’t for a second blame anyone who chose otherwise.

Anyway, what’s past is prologue. After taking his sweet time on a number of other projects, Abrams finally got started on filming a sequel. Star Trek Into Darkness began shooting last January, and the training wheels have officially come off. Abrams built his foundation, and now it’s time to see what he does with it and where the franchise goes as a result.

Three years is a long time to develop a movie, but the Bad Robot crew seems eager to make up for lost time. The film’s first teaser just hit yesterday, and the film’s first trailer is set to drop in front of The Hobbit. Writing a blog entry on the teaser seems pointless when the trailer is only a week away, so I’ll leave you with this retrospective and write about both trailers in a single entry next week.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping a fire extinguisher and a giant bucket of water by my computer, the better to read your comments.

8 Comments

  1. Comment by Particle Emitter:

    LOL DEAL WITH IT NERD

    BUTTHURT NEWB DETECTED

    OWNED FOR LIFE

    šŸ˜Ž

    In other words, I agree with what you say in principle, but the teaser unfortunately implies a vengeance plot that takes place to a possibly great extent on Earth: not very Trekkish at all.
    Well, even if Abrams & co. isn’t really trying very hard to copy Star Trek’s vital elements, but only scavenging from it, the synthesis of old and new should make something original of some value; even if that value is a cautionary failure.
    Looking forward to the new trailer, some discussion of it, and perhaps confirmation of my theory that the villain is Garth of Izar. In closing:

    “I AM A LOOZER”- U

    ROFL

    GTFO

  2. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    Alas, it’s worth remembering that the new franchise is being written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. “Something original of some value” is very hard to come by in their screenwriting history.

    I have my own thoughts about the teaser, but I’ll save them for another day.

  3. Comment by Anonymous:

    Remember, not only are we seeing Kirk and Spock at earlier times in their lives, you are also seeing a Kirk who wasn’t raised by his father, like Kirk prime was, and you are seeing a Spock who’s home planet was recently destroyed, along with his mother, something Spock Prime never experienced.

  4. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    Both very good points.

  5. Comment by My cat snores:

    After Kirk saw his father’s charred remains left by Romulan stormtroopers in the cornfield, and Spock watched the evil Lord Nero make an example of Vulcan to the other rebels, both men drifted dangerously close to the barbaric Dark Side of the Science. Why, absolutely any plot development is feasible now.

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