My Thoughts on Star Trek
A few years back I sat on a panel and we were asked to discuss what we’d do if we could revitalize Star Trek. My answer was to do what Gene Roddenberry did. Go to the leading futurists and figure out where we were headed technologically and then extrapolate from there and build a new 23rd century. Keep Roddenberry’s optimism about mankind and life among the stars and tell stories ripped from today’s headlines along with rollicking good action.
Director J.J. Abrams and his team might have been taking notes in the audience since their vision of the 23rd century looks like it has a straight line from today, not 1966. The reinvention of Star Trek comes at a time when aging franchises from James Bond to Sherlock Holmes have been dusted off, reconsidered, recast and released to great acclaim. Because this has never been done before, Star Trek devotees were concerned how this would spoil the memories they grew up making, of seeing those first episodes and the then the movies. Captain Kirk and Spock were indelibly William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Well, there are some who never got over Sean Connery so yeah, it’s an adjustment but if done right, you get past it pretty quickly.
The well cast, well directed Star Trek movie moves at warp speed and you sign right on, enjoying the shiny future that might await us. I found myself smiling all the way through, loving the film going experience.
The diehard fans have to understand, though, that despite all the pre-release comments that this doesn’t gainsay Roddenberry’s 1966-1969 series, that a plot element sends the story on a divergent timeline, that’s not quite the truth. From the moment Nero arrives in the 23rd century there are countless things already not in synch with what we know not only from the original series but from the lackluster prequel series Enterprise (would that series was retconned out of existence). The technology, for starters, and ship designs are clues that we’re dealing with a very different universe. Then there’s the absence of Sam Kirk in Jim’s life, another clue we’re starting in some other reality. No doubt, someone has a list somewhere, proving the point further.
Okay, I got it. I can move beyond that and say this is a fresh start. Not everyone can be so accepting so Abrams wisely used Spock, the first, as a storytelling device to tell everyone else this is a new starting point, and if he’s okay with it, so can you be.
Having said all that, let’s move into the film itself. One reason I delayed until now was for the people who really wanted to see it to so get there and I can discuss plot points without spoiling the fun.
It’s a fun film. Everyone’s clearly having a good time aboard the good ship Enterprise. But boy, the science makes no sense and the story has some major plot holes.
This red matter can create a singularity, a black hole in space. How large and for how long? Because when Vulcan is obliterated by the red matter, nothing is said about its moons or its star or how it affected nearby solar systems. Given how the Enterprise managed to free itself, we can conclude it was not very powerful but it’d be nice if some attention were paid to the physics.
That one of the founding worlds of the United Federation of Planets has just been vaporized is also a plot point that no one addresses or memorializes. It takes the original Spock to find a new homeworld for the 10,000 remaining Vulcans.
While the story moves at a nice clip, there are times you stop and wonder, huh? Spock tosses Kirk off the Enterprise? That had to be in violation of seventeen different regulations. Also, Kirk’s landing on the same world as the old Spock and Scotty stretched credulity to the breaking point. And when Spock counsels him on how to relieve his younger self, wouldn’t it have been easier for Kirk to get McCoy to declare Spock unfit for duty given the loss of his mother and people? No, we needed a fight between the friends.
The notion that a ship full of cadets takes over the Enterprise (along with other ships) doesn’t speak well for the ranks of Starfleet as the movie opens. Once the CMO died, cadet McCoy suddenly became the chief medic? Similarly, who was running Engineering before Scotty beamed aboard? Gaping holes that should have been neatly tied off in the script.
And yet…bringing the core crew together is nicely done and for the most part, true to the characters as we recall them. Much is being made about the Spock-Uhura relationship but those with long memories may recall how she got away with her flirtatious teasing in the earliest episodes so this is a nifty extrapolation.
Abrams’ casting is pretty top notch. I find no fault with the command crew and would love to have seen Bruce Greenwood do more as Chris Pike. The secondary roles are largely also well cast despite Jennifer Morrison having too little to do as Kirk’s mom. The only one I had trouble with was Ben Cross as Sarek, who lacked the gravity that Mark Lenard gave the character. Eric Bana’s Nero was a colorful look at a Romulan but he really doesn’t have enough time to do much but whine or snarl. Just what did he and his crew do for 25 years?
The uniforms, sets, gadgets and score are all swell (except maybe for engineering). I was captivated by the visual inventiveness. I appreciated Abrams slipping in the Easter Eggs from his other productions and caught, I suspect, most of them.
In the end credits, the film is dedicated to Gene and Majel Roddenberry which is appropriate. They created a vision of the future that spoke to a generation and made us work a little harder to make it a reality. With luck, the revamped franchise will spark that same excitement in another generation of fans who can work with the previous ones so we can all boldly go….