Boldly going where all of these people have gone before…

I could never call myself a Trekkie, but that’s not to say I could never have been one. What I saw of the original Star Trek series as a child never turned me off particularly – albeit I was bemused by what threat plasticine blobs and Nazis could offer a heavily armed starship – but it was ironically my obsessive nature which stopped me from becoming a devout Trekkie in the first place.

In order to have become one, I would have had to have seen every episode from start to finish in rough order, and not just pick and mix on alternating weekends at my father’s house. Had I ever properly gotten into Star Trek, you would all fear me and the wrath of my über-geekdom.

Strangely  I have always had a passion for The Next Generation for the very reason cited above; I was able over the years to catch almost every episode on the telly as they came and went, and for those I missed I borrowed a complete guidebook from a neighbour and studied it diligently (and embarrassingly).

So yeah, as Trekkies go, I am FAIL. So much so that I only saw The Wrath of Khan for the first time last summer. I have never seen The Motion Picture, nor a single episode of Enterprise. But I do rank the TNG episode ‘Cause and Effect’ (the déjà vu one) to be one of the best episodes of a TV drama ever made (other members of that esteemed list are Lost’s ‘Deus Ex Machina’ and The West Wing’s ‘Two Cathedrals’).

So it would be fair to say I never had particularly high hopes for JJ Abrams’s revamped Star Trek, and I was never one to hide my criticism. But it wasn’t out of love for the originals or a feeling of treading on sacred ground that it bothered me, but simply a lack of timeliness to the project that made it feel wrong for now. The last two TNG films had been so poor (from the snippets I saw while angrily ignoring them) that throwing a new Star Trek into the mix that was looking backward rather than forward seemed strange to me. Does one have to go back to the beginning to fix what only went wrong along the way? Let’s hope not, or George Lucas will be announcing a reboot of the original Star Wars trilogy within days of now.

I was surprised then when the reviews started coming back so extremely positive. How could this be? Well, I should have seen it coming, what Abrams’s Star Trek has going for it is something decidedly simple but unique – it’s a blockbuster!

And no, I don’t mean to slam the previous Star Treks (since when has being a blockbuster been definitively a good thing?), nor imply weak box offices across the board. But there has always been something decidedly B-movie-ish about the majority of Star Trek films; they never lost touch with the fact that they were glorified episodes of good TV shows. Sometimes it worked delightfully, and other times it didn’t.

But Star Trek is undoubtedly an enormously mainstream, high-concept, high-budget ($150 million?!), audience-pleasing movie machine. Its CGI rivals the best the Star Wars prequels ever offered, its script is full of punchy dialogue, and there’s a sexy young cast who fit so snugly into their already worn roles that one suspects genetic tampering has been used to clone a second superior generation to crew the Enterprise. Just think – somewhere out there a hairless baby is being bred to be Jean-Luc Picard in forty years.

What they’ve done here is take an original idea and make it brighter, faster, sharper, funnier, surprisingly less camp, and suspiciously likable. There’s no doubt that this is the Star Trek film that anyone can enjoy with ease. The young characters are all introduced as new – there’s a few gags for the fans but baring the time-travel subplot not much that would require any foreknowledge of the series.

It’s not without its faults. Eric Bana as the Romulan villain Nero stoops almost as low as he did as Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl – it’s a desperately written role, but he has nothing to bring to it that couldn’t be performed by a lobotomised Nicolas Cage.

The monster action sequence on an ice planet has vomit-inducing echoes of The Phantom Menace and seems determined to satisfy awkward cinemagoers who time the interval between action scenes and leave if unsatiated.

Similarly, much of the comic relief could have been left out – Simon Pegg makes a surprisingly impressive Scotty, but making him act the complete fool is an insult to the character, the actor (and his forebear) and most of the isle of Britain. Pairing him with a sidekick who is the freakish offspring of a Jawa and one of those coral people from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels hardly helps. The ‘Scotty in the water pipe’ sequence is so painfully out of place it deserves a right booing, but then it seems to be there to satisfy both the comic relief seekers and those who think a potential death is “exciting” or even an action sequence.

Speaking of potential deaths for characters who will clearly not die, young Kirk dangles from a precipice a total of three times in this film, not including his battle with a giant bug thingy on an ice slope.

In hiring an almost perfect cast for the Enterprise, Abrams has allowed himself to get away with a lot. Essentially by rewriting the past he has all but deleted four TV series and ten films from the Star Trek canon, allowing himself and his successors to craft an entirely new universe in which to boldly go. Leonard Nemoy’s rather charming cameo is used as the royal seal to decree this new Star Trek law.

Thus, what’s most unfortunate about the project is that it essentially fails to deliver on its own premise. Star Trek was billed as an origin story for a series epic in scope. It would explain how these characters that have been adored for forty years now came to share the deck of this starship. But it simply doesn’t do that, because the time is all wrong.

The very rewriting of the time frame by Nero’s evil nastiness changes the events that Trekkies were promised by this film in the first place. This is not how Kirk came to be in Starfleet, because Kirk had a father who raised him right, while this one does not – and if we learned nothing else from The Boys from Brazil it’s what a difference a dad makes.

Similarly Spock never lost his mother (Winona Ryder, oh how you shoplifted your career to death) nor his home planet. And how did Scotty actually come to be a member of the Enterprise crew when not prodded by alternate universe Kirk and future Spock?

Abrams has created an origin story to a completely (well, not completely!) different series; a series he will no doubt helm for some time (coincidently his former pet project Lost has been hammering home for months now that time-tinkery is ultimately fruitless).

One hopes he will continue to do a decent job with it, and that in time the Trekkies will either come to love it – or rise up in rebellion and demand their universe be put to right.

Regardless, if in fifty years time I see an alternate universe reboot of Star Trek: Voyager I will be the first to hunt down the aging Mr Adams and break both his crumbling knees.

3/5

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Boldly going where all of these people have gone before…

  1. Hmm I think the criticism of the changes to the canon are a bit weak to be honest and too easy. While Abrams was taking an easy option in one respect he was also taking a braver and more sensible option.

    It’s a more sensible one as staying true to a canon this lengthy and detailed would be ridiculously shackling. It’s braver because the radical manner in which he did it is bound to risk enraging even mild Trekkies. Just because in one imagining Kirk had a good dad, Winona Ryder didn’t die etc, doesn’t mean Abrams should be slammed if he still manages to to tell a good story which he does in this case.

    Also Pegg was a good Scotty. This was a role that had to be re-imagined to work as anyone trying to do it in Doohan’s manner would near certainly have made it horribly camp. It was also quite a decent accent, which is rare for any Englishman attempting a Scottish voice. Yes the pet co-worker was silly and they could have done a better job explaining how the character would have ended up on the Enterprise anyway but neither of these was enough for me to really have issues with the way the character was used.

  2. Bridget

    Come back to blogging. Cyberspace misses your film thoughts.

  3. Pingback: Star Trek Beyond – The phaser, the furious | The Diary of a Film Cricket

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