My love affair with Star Trek began about the time of Star Trek the Next Generation when, in between series, I needed something sci-fi to keep up with. Thus, I got my hands on re-ran 1966-1969 Original espisodes, screenplay-adapted novels and plastic models. It wasn’t long before I dreampt of sidling to others of my kind at Star Trek conventions and lost my discomfit at being called a ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’.
Today, my past revisits me, haunting my steps at home as I fill up on Earl Grey and contemplate watching Star Trek movies 1-10 again. I just saw the simply titled Star Trek, the series’ 11th movie, with my wife who is about as familiar with Star Trek as I am with Biology (I am not familiar). We both enjoyed it very much. There is much to laud from the intense action to nicely placed comedy and well-known actors such as Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto. However, in the end, the Mrs. enjoyed the movie much more than I.
With a new Star Trek app at the App Store and plenty of recent movie hype, I just have to spill my beans, albeit shortly. In a word, Star Trek, renewed though it is, tells the same old derivative story that has held the series back since its dawn. There is a bad guy, a good guy and there is a fragile world in between that only the good guy can save. It amounts to high-production overly melodramatic dross that begins and ends with revenge.
The weapon? Sure, a bit of Red-matter that can implode whole planets or reverse the devastating effects of a nova. But that is nothing in comparison to a devastating mega-phallic mining drill that is far more the super-weapon than the Genesis project in The Revenge of Khan and The Search for Spock. The bad guy? a tatooed freak with a strong jaw-line and fewer facial expressions than Nicholas Cage (who would make an excellent Vulcan). The bad ship? Something out of Babylon 5 or Wing Commander Prophecy.
Despite nearly 30 years of movie making history, the Star Trek franchise has delivered a freakishly familiar story in almost every movie: the destruction of a planet (or the Federation) because of some big, bad force. While it is easier for me to critique Star Trek’s writing than it is to create a new and enthralling movie, I think my disappointed is not unfounded. It is particularly uncanny at how simplistic the universe of Star Trek is in contrast to the rather provocative manifesto to which Gene Roddenberry created the original series; in his own words “I could make statements about sex, religion, Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles. Indeed, we did make them on Star Trek: we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network” . (Wikipedia Entry, quoting Gene Roddenberry in Johnson Smith’s book, American Science Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate and Beyond.)
Yet, despite his burdensome mission, each ‘classic’ movie hosted some destructive alien or humanoid force that harnessed too great a power and would stop at nothing until either answered or beaten. It is true that the powers themselves had different agendas; Star Trek 1′s Voyager wanted to complete its mission, 2′s Khan wanted to destory Kirk and create a new world and from its piggyback, we confront the building or destruction of one form of planet or another until Star Trek 4 where an alien cigar that only speaks humpback does a tsunami number on earth’s oceans. The point is that, though some important issues at least get air-time in Star Trek, their application as stories is far too linear.
A Gaian utopia, earth of the future is fundamentally only the Federation. There is nothing else. Humanity’s goal is to seek out new life and new civilisations. Yet in doing so, they more often than not, end up destroying the something important. In the most recent release, Spock, a distinguished member of the Federation is blamed for the destruction of Romulus and in turn, his home planet of Vulcan is destroyed. In Star Trek 6, Planet Klingon is destroyed in a freak environmental disaster and in every movie after, some disaster or other happens to either either Earth or another planet.
As for the decision to create an alternate reality from before the time that Kirk entered Starfleet, the writers of Star Trek were smart. Not only, do they now have an open pitch to play any game they want (and hopefully shoot a few goals), but they also won’t be subject to tread on the older canon. Considering that to our standards, so much of the technology from the TV series and older movies may seem tamer than a microwave by our contemporary standards, an alternate universe also gives good reason to fit the Star Trek universe into a more modern uniform. I expect that in 20 years when the present cast are aging and the current technology starts to go microwave, another space/time/continuum fluctuation will happen so that Kirk two can meet Kirk three for a whole new generation of movie goers. In other words, has the Star Trek franchise lost hope in being able to creatively write new material that will awe audiences and critics alike? Probably.
Of course the special effects were good and the cast superbly fit the shadows of their ancestors. Uhura was hot, but Star Trek had too many cartoon-esque one-liners and rather unengaging acting moments to be anything but a sci-fi action movie.
I enjoyed the move – that is no lie. And probably, had I not also watched every other Star Trek, read the books and watched the TV series, I would have nothing but praise for the film. As it is, I was a Trekkie and used to debate with mates about the science and fiction of Roddenberry’s creation. But, in the new movie, I was expecting something different. I was expecting that in its new clothes and accompanied by a new cast, the story could be changed, the writing would be unique. I was wrong. The newest movie is fun, frantic and has some hot faces and sometimes fun humour, but ultimately, it is a work of fluff.