By now, I’m sure, many of you have either seen the new Star Trek film, in theatres, or are at least eagerly contemplating doing so on the enthusastic recommendation of your friends. I saw it two nights ago, but even before that I was determined to post a review of the film as my maiden effort for this website, regardless of my opinion of it. When I was first invited to post on this site by its generous host, I was asked only to try to keep anything that I wrote in a positive vein. Well, at the risk of ignoring the spirit of that injunction, even while preserving its semantic integrity, I will say this: I’m POSITIVE I didn’t care for Star Trek.
And before you ask, yes, I am an old school Trekkie purist, though not quite first wave. Whenthe original series aired, I was between the ages of 5 and 8. In those days, the average household contained perhaps one TV set, which Dad had exclusive control over. And Dad didn’t watch Star Trek. I first became hooked on the show just after its cancellation in mid-to-late 1969. In fact, the first petition that I ever signed was one that protested the show’s cancellation by NBC. I originally believed that we had won some great victory, since the show continued to air. Then I became familiar with the concepts of “reruns” and “syndication.” In any case, it was for me the beginning of a 40-year-long infatuation.
Naturally, over the years I met every attempt to extend the franchise and expand upon the Trek mythos with some initial scepticism. But eventually, I came to regard every new film and television spin-off as the entitlement of each new generation of Trekkie. I even came to tolerate Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as anyone would a really stupid roommate who never pays his share of the rent on time, but nonetheless has a rad stereo and hot girlfriend who constantly hangs around the apartment.
I can even see the logic in taking the new Trek film in the direction in which the producers chose – up to a point. I’m mean, let’s face it, the original series cast is either too old, or too dead, to continue gallivanting around the cosmos, so why not a prequel which takes us back to the origins of these beloved characters?
However, not content with simply doing this, producer/director J.J. Abrams’ “reimagining” (a trendy concept in Hollywood that permits and is responsible for much mischief) of the world of classic Trek not only abandons any fidelity to its hallowed source, but effectively obliterates it with yet another convoluted time travel tale (a story device which originally gave us some of the best classic Trek episodes, but which has, over time, degenerated into a convenient crutch for lazy writers) which leaves us with a whole new “alternate reality” of Trek which accepts no responsibility for what has come before it. Worse yet, the film constantly and illogically (or perhaps just sadistically) alludes to and foreshadows events and relationships those steeped in classic Trek lore should be able to genuinely appreciate, if only they weren’t acutely aware that the new film’s corrupting story line has made those future events and relationships irrelevant.
The film also abounds with many, admittedly less fundamental, flaws. For instance, no amount of diddling with the Time-Space Continuum can explain how the film’s seven main characters, whose ages were traditionally accepted as spanning a period of roughly 20 years, could all be graduating from Star Fleet Academy at essentually the same time. Further, no attempt was made to even try to explain why George Kirk‘s wife, pregnant with and ultimately giving shipboard birth to the future James T., was allowed on board a starship on active emergency duty in the first place.
And the film’s story is full of such weekly plotted points. To add insult to injury, assignments on the “new” Enterprise are given out with reckless abandon. For example, we are no sooner introduced to the character of Montgomery Scott, a young derelict engineer marooned at an obscure Federation outpost, than he is assigned as the Enterprise’s chief engineer. And a mere 20 minutes or so of screen time after James Kirk is literally ejected from the starship by Captain Spock for his mutinous conduct, Spock then meekly hands over command of the ship to Kirk (a stowaway who hasn’t even finished his academy training) on the flimsiest and most unconvincing of pretexts. I really don’t mean to sound like an unreconstructed, unrepentant Star Trek nerd with these objections, but I believe they represent serious deficiencies in basic movie storytelling, as well as being just plain bad Trek scholarship.
My final objection would have to involve the way in which many of the film’s action sequences were realized. Now, this new Star Trek is by no means the only offender in this regard (merely the latest), but in continuation of a trend in action films of the past 10 years or so, the action sequences in the film are rendered in such a blurry, shaky frenetically cut way as to render them nearly visually unintelligible. A conflict is set up, followed by a minute or so of flashes, explosions, and frantic camera motion, after which the conflict is unclearly resolved. It’s as though spastic motion and loud noise have become accepted substitutes for a well coordinated action sequence. But then what can we expect when most such sequences no longer involve live actors?
I didn’t, however, find everything about the film objectionable. I thought its overall look was impressive, not surprising given the film’s budget. I was also impressed with the cast of young actors who struggled mightily against a simpleminded script to make these fabled characters their own. Whether they opted, as did Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, not to mimic too closely the mannerisms of the actors who originally played their characters, or, as in the case of Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard McCoy, their mimicry was spot-on, the young cast’s earnestness gave the film it’s only hint of credibility. Also, Simon Pegg as Scotty provided the film some much needed humor which was either largely missing from the earlier part of the movie, or rendered in inane slapstick.
One exception to my tolerance of the cast and characters in general involves the character of Nero, the disgruntled Romulan miner with delusions of Khanhood. Though responsible for much of the mischief in the film, he appears, with his facial tattoos and colloqial English, less a member of the Trek pantheon of super-villians, and more like a petulent, slightly aged club kid. The character, his grievances, and the revenge he seeks to wreak upon the Federation all come off as contrived and a bit too familiar.
Still, Abrams will no doubt succeed in his intention of reaching a broader audience for his film, though one not as emotionally invested in the Trek universe as us old timers, and who will not mind him playing fast and loose with the fundamental integrity of the saga. Of course, there is already a plan for the inevitable sequel, but whether it will seek to make amends for the depredations of the first film, or merely compound them, remains to be seen. But the notion that the Trek franchise needs to continually expand its fan base is not new, nor has it ever made much sense to me considering how this nearly half-century-old, multi-billion dollar phenomenon has been successfully sustained by its admittedly modest, but extremely loyal, devotees who must now feel, as I do, somewhat betrayed by this latest reimagining. Abrams’ film is definitely not the Trek ours Dads turned the channel on all those years ago, and I’m not sure what disturbs me more – that fact alone, or the realization that I’ve now become “Dad.”